Ah – junk status! Let’s have another conference!

Ah – junk status! Let’s have another conference!

Now that our economy has reached the brink of junk status, many observers are trying to explain how we got there and what needs to be done to turn things around. Sadly, they routinely fail to emphasise the role that bad public transport is playing.

South Africans spend 17 percent of their after-tax income just on paying off their car loans. Add fuel and other motoring costs and we are probably looking at more than 30 percent. That calculation doesn’t include people in low-paying jobs who don’t pay tax, but who also pay a big slice of their income on cars, or on expensive minibus-taxi fares.

Instead of fixing subsidised public transport, the authorities come up with one lame transport conference after the other. The latest was held on the East Rand in March, where Gautrans, in partnership with a Brussels-based outfit called the UITP (Union Internationale des Transports Publics), held a conference – closed to the public – to talk about a “transition towards a transport authority (TA)”.

Suddenly the authorities have discovered that a TA “requires an appropriate legislative framework” and that existing legislation does “not provide for a transition … towards a … transport authority”.

The purpose of the conference was, therefore, to “develop an understanding of the concept … understand structural models … consider policy options … understand institutional arrangements … clarify the processes needed to establish a TA by 2019”.

Come on, Gautrans – you knew all about this at least 16 years ago. In March 2000, Gautrans produced a document called: A strategy for public transport modal integration in Gauteng. It was sent around for comment to various stakeholders. Someone put a line through the following paragraph on page 65:

6.2.10. One of the responsibilities of a TA is to develop a public transport plan for the transport authority area. Such a plan must, according to the NLTTB, include modal integration proposals and provide the legal framework for planning and implementing of modal-integration projects. It, therefore, becomes the centre or the pivot for the whole modal-integration strategy.

Clearly, this was an embarrassment to some “stakeholders”, since, at that stage, no progress had been made towards a TA. So paragraph 6.2.10 of 2000 joins Annexure F of 2013 on the junkyard that is transport “planning” in Gauteng.

Why was it necessary to airbrush a TA out of the discussion at that time? It should be obvious – only three months earlier, Gautrans had announced the intention to build the Gautrain, which (a) would have been a violation of the NLTTB, and (b) would have been turned down by a properly functioning TA. Sadly, we have now wasted 16 years, and still have to be given until 2019 to sort out the resulting mess!

Forward to 2006: the Gauteng Department of Education failed to pay school bus operators money that was owed to them, resulting in thousands of schoolchildren having to walk to school. That was clearly missed by the cronies at the UITP which, in 2007, awarded the Gautrain a special prize for putting up a “kiddies” website, supposedly intended to make young people more aware of public transport.

I pointed out this irony to the UITP in 2008, saying: “If we wish to attract children to public transport, we will have to do more than offer them websites. We need to offer them services that they can actually use.

“If the UITP wants to make a contribution to solving the serious problems facing public transport in South Africa, it will need to take a more investigative approach to the information that it receives.”

The UITP stiffly replied: “UITP is a non-political organisation and we are not interfering in local public transport decisions,”

To which I replied: “I did not ask the UITP to interfere in political decisions. However, when the UITP’s policy of non-interference spills over into uncritical acceptance of bogus research and poor decisions on the part of governments, then the UITP will undermine any role that it might hope to play in such countries. Giving prizes to bogus websites is not very helpful.”

(By the way, the “kiddies” website is now so out of date that it also belongs on the scrapheap. As you did with Annexure F, please take it off the web, Gautrans.)

Well, another eight years have gone by, during which the UITP, its African offshoot; the UATP, and Gautrans have continued to hold meaningless conferences.

Gautrans has known all along what should be done about introducing a TA, and its failure to do so has undermined public transport in the province. Developing an understanding of the “concept, structural models, policy options, institutional arrangements” and clarifying “the processes” should have been completed by now.  

Ah, junk status. Maybe it will focus our minds. Maybe it won’t!


Vaughan Mostert lectured on public transport issues at the University of Johannesburg for nearly thirty years. Through Hopping Off, Mostert leaves readers with some parting food for thought as he continues his push for change in the local public transport industry.

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