Back to buses
GAVIN MYERS attended the 2017 Southern African Bus Operators Association (Saboa) conference, which centred on one particular question…
“How do you get people back onto buses?” asked economist Mike Schussler while giving the keynote address, and outlining his overview of the South African economy and his expectations for 2017.
“Buses are grabbing more market share compared to rail (45 percent), although overall numbers have been dropping (for both passenger rail and bus). While service delivery in the bus industry is far better than that of rail, the drop in numbers could be due to taxis, people buying cars and car sharing, or, in terms of rail, costs that have been increasing more quickly than in the bus industry,” he said.
According to Schussler, subsidies alone won’t get people back into buses… Service delivery for commuters (who are losing confidence and will be experiencing a decline in net disposable income for at least another year) will be key.
The public transport turnaround
Discussing the Department of Transport’s (DoT’s) turnaround strategy for public transport was the Department’s Lisemba Manamela, who questioned whether the targets that have been chased up to this point have been too ambitious.
“South Africans are now more sensitive to the quality of public transport service, but public transport in South Africa has suffered major underinvestment, which has driven down the quality and effectiveness of services. As a result, public transport suffers critical sustainability issues; notably low recapitalisation, poor maintenance practices and direct route competition.
“The time to invest is now. We have to use the lessons learnt over the last 20 years and transform with use of big data. Yes, it’s possible to turn public transport around if we follow the lessons and include all stakeholders,” he said.
Guiding the process is the Integrated Public Transport Turnaround Plan, with which the public-transport industry will already be familiar. According to Manamela, this plan “seeks to propose appropriate short, medium and long-term interventions that would help to address current challenges and also enhance some of the prevailing measures, such as the introduction of integrated public-transport networks”.
The plan’s policy objectives are clustered into five key areas in terms of the white paper on National Transport Policy of 1996. Manamela gave an overview of the progress made in each area.
1. Public transport planning and regulation
“While we’ve made progress with Integrated Public Transport Network Plans (IPTNs) in metro areas, little has happened outside these areas, due to the lack of capacity for planning. To move forward, the DoT needs to find ways to assist these areas. We are trying to identify the areas that need this assistance. What is key is to develop skills and make funding a non-issue by making public transport a ‘basic service’ within the provincial and municipal context.
2. Spatial transformation
“In this regard there are some embedded factors that will take a long time to resolve and will impact on cost. For example, South African cities have very low density, but an extensive road network.
“That impacts on how you plan transport in the long term. In terms of the proposals, we should first enhance areas that are densified through the implementation of new services. Solutions for metros cannot be solutions for cities and rural areas. All this has an impact on whether we have people who can do proper planning.
3. Public transport funding
“When you look at the share of funding (between modes) and the user numbers, the figures are distorted. Taxis provide 65 percent of public transport. This is because years of underinvestment in bus and rail transport has reduced the quality of these services.
“If we can rationalise the various pockets of funding there might be more ways we can improve public transport, but we cannot deny there is a need for increased public transport funding, despite economic conditions. Most importantly, we need to optimise the use of current resources and minimise leakages.
4. Customer-centred public transport
“Here we have to ensure that passenger transport services address user needs. Yes, there has been some improvement, but the process has been very slow and costly. Public transport services are still characterised by long travel times, unsafe vehicles and unreliable services. We have to develop a national norms and standards guide for public transport operations. The idea has to be to improve services to the user.
5. Public transport industry development
“This is about empowering current operators who are disadvantaged, while ensuring environmental sustainability and energy efficiency. The most significant industry development to date is the inclusion of taxi operators in the formation of new IPTN services in some metropolitan areas.
“Nothing much has happened with subsided commuter-bus services. These have been stagnant since 2003, due to funding constraints. We can only achieve meaningful industry development when services are renewed. Currently there’s very little that we can do and services are collapsing. The bus industry must transform, and the taxi industry must take primary responsibility towards professionalisation of the sector,” Manamela concluded.
White Paper under review
Of course, the white paper on National Transport Policy is under review, as Themba Tenza, acting deputy director general: Integrated Transport Planning at the DoT, explained.
“Since 1996, some things have obviously changed – inadequate investment, access issues, scarcity of skills and limited enforcement,” said Tenza. The revised white paper incorporates the input of specialists and stakeholders and has been split into modes, with the addition of a public transport chapter.
“It’s important to note that the existing white paper is still very good and some of the things in it were not implemented, so we have not started fresh. There are a lot of developmental gaps that need to be closed – for example, access issues; for bus commuters, a lot of user frustration comes in when completing the last kilometre of their journey,” Tenza said.
Tenza focused on roads and public transport as the two most pertinent sections of the white paper to Saboa delegates.
“We need our roads to be safer for all road users. Roadside testing of the compliance of vehicles with critical roadworthy requirements will be increased. The development of safer road infrastructure for all users should be prioritised. Compulsory road-safety audits will be undertaken and reviewed every five years.
“Our cities are running out of road space and we have emphasised ‘non-motorised transport’ – walking and cycling, before using public transport – which should be integrated into spatial development strategies,” he said of roads.
“As a country, our two biggest challenges are integration and implementation. Public transport must work as a system and share the same space in a better way. The system of consultation extends the time needed to sort these things out…
“The revision will seek to reposition the role of government. In the longer term, the government will seek a reduction in the cost to the state of the subsidisation of transport operations, which will be based on developing a more effective and efficient public transport system,” he said.
The revised white paper is currently awaiting approval by Cabinet for gazetting for public comments. It is hoped that it will be finalised and adopted by March 2018, with implementation following from April 2018.
“When this is gazetted for public comment, we would like you to have a look at it and influence it for the better,” Tenza urged the conference delegates.
B-BBEE drafts and amendments
Kgomotso Selokane, MD of Kgoselo Empowerment, gave an update of current black economic empowerment (BEE) legislation.
“There are a few changes that we can’t discuss as they are in an embargoed stage. What’s of primary importance now is to know how the targets have moved,” she began.
According to Selokane, ownership has moved from 30 to 40 percent. “This is a sector where ownership is something that is able to go to those that make up a majority of our economy,” she commented. Ownership by black women has increased to 20 percent.
Management control remains much as it was, except that women in semi-skilled and unskilled positions have been accounted for. “When we did an analysis of the tiers of employment in the industry, we found that women were few and far between in this space. The idea was to create upward mobility to management by introducing women lower down and training them up,” Selokane explained.
Skills development is also a priority element. “The fundamental change in the bus industry is that we’ve named the differences between the learnerships. The wording that spoke to unemployed people was that any type of training would be on the BEE matrix. We realised that that works against what we are trying to achieve with BEE, so we aligned it to remove ambiguity. The target was also then increased.”
Bus commuter enterprise supplier development is another priority element. “We spent three months last year doing a roadshow to small bus operators to find out their wants and needs. We realised we need to incorporate them into the value chain and create a model that prevents them just waiting for negotiated contracts to arrive,” said Selokane.
Points for preferential procurement have been reworked, with a focus on the 51-percent black-owned entities. “You need to show that there is inclusivity of suppliers in your supply chain. The codes will come out with clear instruction to say the subcontracting roots are viable and sustainable,” Selokane told delegates.
Socio-economic development has been amended and now needs to centre on sector-specific initiatives.
“We had not included a specialised scorecard for buses, which was one of the biggest barriers to transformation. This now speaks to all organs of state, section 21 companies and entities (that are not necessarily non-governmental organisations) that own buses. A big emphasis of this is skills development and to bring in the youth; we believe government should do a little more than the private sector.
“The process was not just about the numbers and to create BEE based on law, but to make sure that there is inclusive participation throughout,” Selokane concluded.
With a range of pertinent topics discussed over the two-day conference, we could never report on all that was said and done. However, all presentations are on the Saboa website for download.