Building an environment for public transport

Building an environment for public transport

The recent Southern African Transport Conference featured an array of sessions about urban public transport development in South Africa. GAVIN MYERS attended to find out if our cities are on the road to public transport greatness.

It’s widely accepted that the roads in and around South Africa’s major cities are reaching their capacity. Our major economic centres are experiencing levels of congestion that desperately need to be alleviated. One way this could be achieved is with optimal provision of public transport, which, in certain instances, is being implemented.

As just one example, in recent times the Gauteng region has benefited from increased road capacity, the introduction of the Gautrain and – like 15 other major cities around the country – the phased implementation of bus rapid transit (BRT) systems as part of an integrated rapid public transit network (IRPTN).

An important aspect of these systems is the spin-off benefits for the areas in which they operate – including infrastructural advances and property development. In other words they are breathing new life into the areas concerned.

Speaking about the potential of public transport systems to facilitate development, Stef Naude, director at HHO Africa Infrastructure Engineers, says that public transport is a critical component in urban restructuring, the network effects of which will influence accessibility to urban areas.

Fixed infrastructure such as the Gautrain and BRT systems hold potential impacts for land values. Encouraging commuters to use them is the trick.“Fixed transport infrastructure, like BRT, holds potential impacts for land values. Different cities around the world have shown mixed results from BRT, depending on the environment. In Cape Town, for example, MyCiti has been successful in capturing choice users (those who leave vehicles at home and choose to use the system). There has been a general increase in property values in Table View, but not along the trunk route.”

According to Naude, rapid and light rail tends to attract more development, due to its permanence. This is something now being seen in certain areas around the Gautrain system. “The Gautrain has increased densities and introduced mixed use. The land-use applications surrounding the Gautrain now exceed its capital costs,” he notes.

Naude suggests a public/private development agency be established to maximise the land value opportunities that have been missed in South Africa so far.

“The competing outcomes are to: facilitate spatial restructuring, optimise economic growth, recover costs, generate income and create equitable accessibility. Some South African cities might be ‘golden geese’, while others might need to incentivise their stakeholders. The question is how to identify critical locations,” explains Naude.

In his presentation about transport-oriented development (TOD) in a South African context, Geoffrey Bickford, researcher at the South African Cities Network, suggests that developments tend to be peripherally designed. “TOD is a concept from North America to combat the predominance of the car. When we develop around public transport hubs, we must think about a range of solutions to shift lifestyles and the orientation of how and why people travel.

“There are certain principles that are difficult to package in development: efficient and accessible transport systems, reduced rates of car parking, comfortable walking distance to high-density development and increasing income equality,” he says.

“There is a significant opportunity to bring stakeholders together to have a clear framework of what can be achieved and how to advance a true TOD agenda,” he concludes.

One could look to the node of Sandton for enlightenment. ARUP’s Madeleine Engelbrecht suggests that an integrated public transport planning approach could balance demands for road space in Sandton. Although the area has seen some major development by listed corporations in recent times – specifically near to the Gautrain Station – the node is trapped within a residential area.

Engelbrecht points out that Sandton is served by six major corridors with 13 traffic lanes. The travel demand in the area is a big challenge – 100 000 people enter Sandton during peak periods and, at a growth rate of three percent, the travel demand will double in 15 to 20 years. While the Gautrain has had a profound impact, it is limited to those in its catchment areas.

“It’s becoming more and more difficult to add to or amend road plans and structured solutions to keep the node accessible. There are many interventions to consider, but we should focus on the less conventional,” she suggests.

“These include intense and optimum use of infrastructure, reallocation of street space, the right land use mix to support public transport and alternatives to the car. We should look at an integrated transport network; densification along visible corridors; strong, safe linkages for pedestrians and cyclists and the reallocation of street space for non-motorised transport.

“There are similar challenges in other nodes around South Africa. We cannot plan traditionally in this instance,” she reiterates.

This is all well and good, but will commuters be convinced to give up their private transport?  

Roger Behrens, from the University of Cape Town, suggests that a travel behaviour change framework is needed, such as the project commissioned by the City of Cape Town.

“Measures to change behaviour can be voluntary or regulatory. They could include financial incentives and penalties. Charging is shown to cause the biggest change, but is the most difficult to implement (look no further than e-tolling for an example),” he explains.

“Our use of travel mode is habitual. When users experience some sort of shock; for example, changing jobs or a car crash, they are more likely to change their habitual behaviour. It is at this point that we should try to shift their behaviour in a desired direction.”

However, Behrens notes that for a shift in transport behaviour to take place, public transport services must be accessible and the user must feel safe with their new choice, before they will commit to it. Impressive infrastructural developments and ease of access will certainly go some way to enabling that.

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