This is the first step toward achieving its 25-year integrated transport master plan, a work in progress that it is hoped will be finalised next year.
These short-term gains have been captured in the five-year Gauteng transport interim implementation plan (GTIP5), a discussion document released this week by the department for public comment. The initiatives proposed in the document aim to alleviate bottlenecks, while laying the foundations for the vision of the 25-year strategy.
To distill the issues and focus efforts, the essence of the five-year plan has been divided into eleven key initiatives.
Transport Authority for Gauteng
The technical committee highlights that one of the major challenges the province faces is the disparate and fragmented nature of the bodies responsible for managing transport planning and implementation.
This lack of cross-municipal boundary integration can be overcome by creating a single body that would oversee and manage these critical services. Doing so in theory is relatively easy, but achieving it in reality is going to require a significant mindset change.
The exact nature, form and functions of this proposed body are still open for discussion, and will have to take various legislative and regulatory frameworks into consideration. For example, the province is currently the contracting authority for the main commuter bus services operating across municipal boundaries, yet metropolitan municipalities also act as contracting authorities for services delivered in their areas of jurisdiction.
The proposed provincial transport authority will therefore have to accommodate or adapt these structures, but retain an element of ownership of public transport infrastructure and not negate existing revenue. There are obviously additional benefits such as economies of scale, removal of duplication of services and maintaining minimum standards.
The goal is to establish a framework that will result in a more effective, efficient and affordable public transport system across the province. This initiative aims to serve both the public and the transport department through the delivery of real-time, accurate information.
The public interface would provide commuters with information on transport services and schedule across a range of platforms – including web and mobile, thereby improving the travel experience and convenience.
The benefit to the transport authorities would be access to a centralised database of information incorporating geographic information systems, fleet management, planning and support functions that will enable them to react more effectively to bottlenecks or changes in public transport habits.
Once such integration has happened, it then becomes viable to introduce the "One Province, One Ticket" initiative that would see passengers able to use a single payment system to pay for their public transport – irrespective of whether they are travelling on a bus, train or taxi.
Integration has been given priority for two reasons: the Passenger Rail Agency's (Prasa's) existing modernisation programme, and because rail is still considered the backbone of Gauteng's public transport system.
Prasa's R4-billion modernisation programme over the next three to five years covers the revitalisation of its aging train fleet, as well as its track, signalling and electrical infrastructure. It will also be improving access to stations and upgrading station facilities and amenities.
The technical committee has therefore suggested that this modernisation be supported and integrated with other public transport initiatives planned in the province.
To this end, it has proposed that a joint planning and monitoring forum be established to co-ordinate all transport and integration activities, while also developing a joint corridor vision to ensure alignment of services and priorities.
Initial efforts would focus on the main stations, and the introduction of express trains between these higher priority stations will be investigated. Stemming from these modernisation efforts, these facilities will be included in an integrated passenger service.
Subsidised commuter bus services are a serious concern for the department, largely due to a hiatus in the re-issuing of contracts. This is partly due to ongoing disputes between organised labour and the provincial government on certain contracting terms, with short-term extension of contracts.
The technical committee has suggested that the restructuring, design and letting of new contracts be done as soon as possible. It recognises that the services will require significant restructuring and redesign to align the next generation of contracts with the evolving public transport system.
One of the sticking points is the prompting from the minibus taxi industry to participate in the subsidised public transport framework.
Mini-bus taxi reform
The transformation of the mini-bus taxi industry is a protracted process and another thorn in the side of the roads and transport department. Progress has been slow, which has stalled the role the mini-bus taxi industry could play in an integrated transport system.
The report highlights that this creates marginally-viable operations and often "destructive" competition, and that the industry has to be part of the proposed way forward. Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport Ismail Vadi acknowledged at the launch of the discussion paper that the assessment of the industry in the report was a little thin on detail, although it contains solid proposals on the way forward – which essentially amounts to compromise and negotiation.
Alternative public transport vehicle propulsion
This initiative is an example of the five-year plan looking to not reinvent the wheel, but rather to make better use of what is already in the pipeline. Gauteng's "green re-fleeting" strategy focuses on measures to shift the energy source for transportation from current non-renewable oil resources to sustainable or "clean" fuels. The aim is to reduce transport's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by the year 2020 and 50% by 2040.
The strategy identified a number of alternative energy initiatives, including biofuel development and processing facilities, a massive distillery ethanol manufacturing plant, wide distribution of gas to households and the conversion of public transport vehicles to gas. It focuses on improving vehicles and fuels to not only reduce urban air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions but also to contribute to the green economy and employment and income generation opportunities.
Travel demand management
Congestion on the roads is not only a major bugbear for all road users, but a serious impediment to economic growth. With Gauteng's population expected to double by 2037, the need to address travel demand management is obvious.
But it cannot be implemented in isolation, and is dependent on a variety of information and management systems. The five-year plan therefore aims to create those, while also introducing new standards for public transportation and rationalising municipal public transport corridors.
The improved capacity could lead to the introduction of user-pay models such as toll and congestion pricing, higher parking fees, limited inner-city parking, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, high-occupancy toll lanes, reversible lanes, traffic signal optimisation and bus priority at intersections.
Accessibility to major freight nodes
Gauteng is a major hub for goods and freight of all descriptions. Despite Transnet's plans to extend its rail network and position itself as a viable alternative to road transport, container traffic is growing at almost 5% a year and will therefore continue to put strain on road networks.
Given Transnet's strategy to establish freight rail terminals on the periphery of core urban areas, any future transport strategy has to accommodate these changes. The report therefore proposes measures to divert heavy traffic around core urban areas by providing adequate connectivity to major freight intermodal facilities.
Immediate plans include conducting feasibility, environmental impact assessment and socio–economic studies for the proposed sites and establishing a coordinating structure gain the necessary buy-in. This would include, for example, incorporating these plans into Prasa's expansion plans to ensure easy access for workers commuting from outlying areas.
International and city airports
Aside from having to plan routes to accommodate increased travel to and from Africa's busiest airport, OR Tambo International, the five-year plan also addresses the question of whether a second major airport should be considered.
Passenger numbers travelling through OR Tambo are expected to reach 65-million per year over the next 25 years, in which case arguments for city airports – like Lanseria for instance – can serve niche markets to alleviate the pressure on the main airport.
Pedestrian paths and cycle ways
Despite cities like Johannesburg and Tshwane introducing pedestrian-friendly routes, efforts are uncoordinated. The five-year plan looks set to promote the greening of transport and reducing traffic congestion. This would be done by promoting cycling and short-distance walking and using those routes as feeder systems to public transport.
The key actions and projects proposed include the development of 50km of pedestrian paths, plus 50km of cycle ways and 200 cycle racks at key public transport interchanges across the province.
Continued province-wide mobility
This initiative looks specifically at the road network that feeds traffic into and out of Gauteng, and makes no proposals not already contained in the province's existing plans to develop and strengthen road links.
The five-year strategy will focus on developing a link between Johannesburg and Rustenburg via Lanseria Airport and the N4 Platinum Corridor; providing a link between Sandton and the N4 Platinum Corridor; and linking the N3 to the N4 Maputo Corridor through Ekurhuleni.
Management of transport infrastructure
The state of the roads across the province is a keen topic of debate, and has not been ignored in the five-year plan. By the same token, it makes it onto the list of priorities as a matter of course and no dramatic proposals are contained in the strategy.
The actions that have been highlighted to received attention include creating more roads engineering capacity internally; conducting annual pavement, bridge, and storm water assessments; and producing an annual report on projects and finances.