Plan? What plan?
Promises, promises, promises … but will we ever have a real transport plan?
It started out with so much promise – the announcement back in August 2011 that a steering committee had been appointed to develop a 25-year Integrated Transport Master Plan for Gauteng.
Well, the plan was unveiled in August this year – a substantial document of about 1 400 pages dealing with all modes of transport, both passenger and goods. Anyone who takes transport seriously should get a copy, but those interested in passenger transport are in for a disappointment.
Yes, it predictably says all the right things about the need to fix public transport – setting up a transport authority, an integrated network of routes, common fare systems, more frequent services, new trains and buses – and so on. Sadly, none of this is new. It is a tired rehash of decade-old bullet points, combined with a few up-to-date statistics. It notably fails to give specific directions as to what exactly must be done next. Some guidance, particularly in relation to road transport, was expected; at least by commuters, who submitted a number of suggestions for improvements. These were ignored.
This depressing outcome reflects the composition of the steering committee, which includes organisations and other hangers-on whose contribution to better public transport has been mediocre. The committee included representatives of the Gautrain, the South African Roads Agency (Sanral), the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). A few academic institutions were there – I’ll spare the universities the embarrassment of naming them. Three municipalities – Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni – were also there.
Absent from the committee were representatives of the minibus-taxis, commuter groups and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which back in 2001 produced a report suggesting new bus routes for Soweto that could have become the basis for a revitalised public transport network in the province. This network could have avoided the need for both the Gautrain and the fourth lane on the freeway. (This report was ignored by the Gauteng provincial government at the time.)
Behind the steering committee, however, were the ever-present crop of consultants, ready to unleash their computerised guesswork (sorry – “modelling exercises”) on a gullible public.
The 25-year plan fails to point out that, since 1994, nothing has been done by the province itself to actually integrate anything. The report gives some false hope to commuters by listing no fewer than 164 proposed bus routes that will run all over the province. Unfortunately no details of the actual streets are provided and there are no route descriptions.
Meanwhile BRT in Johannesburg is turning out to be a flop. Currently (mid-September) it is carrying a meagre 4 000 passengers during the peak hour, but
its promoters are doggedly pursuing the next phase of rollouts (starting about the time you read this and continuing into 2014).
And so we still do not have a provincial passenger transport plan! The deadline for comment was September 19, and the commuter organisation that I
belong to has again submitted its proposals to the province – for the umpteenth time. Perhaps we will have something to report in a subsequent column. Perhaps not.
Vaughan Mostert is a senior lecturer in the Department of Transport and Supply Chain Management at the University of Johannesburg. He developed a love for public transport early in life, which led to a lifelong academic interest in the subject. 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.