(R)eal (R)apid (T)ransformation?
October is transport month, and this year saw South Africa host the African Association of Public Transport (UATP) Congress, where transport’s impact on economic growth and local development was high on the agenda, and integrated rapid transport systems seen as the key to success in those areas.
South Africa’s national Public Transport Action Plan was launched five years ago, and in that time we’ve seen integrated bus rapid transit systems being implemented in Johannesburg (Rea Vaya bus rapid transit) and Cape Town (My Citi integrated rapid transit) along with the Gautrain and its related services. As reported previously in FOCUS, Rustenburg’s Rustenburg Rapid Transit (RRT) system is the next big talking point regarding the country’s need for solid public transport solutions.
Based on the same rapid transit concept as Rea Vaya and My Citi, RRT is being billed as a prime example of how the system can work in medium-sized secondary cities. It is due to be phased in in 2015.
This year’s South African Cities Network report on secondary cities reported that Rustenburg has the seventh largest city economy in the country and is one of the fastest growing cities in South Africa, with over 500 000 inhabitants. Bringing in the 32-station RRT system will encourage further development and city growth. The impact of growth in secondary cities such as Rustenburg is important as it helps ease demographic pressure on metros, some of which are reaching unmanageable proportions, such as Johannesburg and its vast surrounding areas.
Investment in public transport is aimed at improving mobility and accessibility to enable economic activity, alleviate poverty, improve safety and provide for community needs, all the while reducing carbon emissions. By integrating existing transport modes and routes into a comprehensive network to effectively serve community needs – such as access to jobs, markets, public services, schools and healthcare facilities – Rustenburg’s RRT will serve its inner city, suburbs and townships, as well as rural, informal and mining settlements. This is not only an important aspect for RRT, but all rapid transit systems, as Apartheid’s legacy of group separation still exists. A study conducted in July by the Development Policy Research Unit at the University of Cape Town found that “spatial apartheid does not allow for optimal job searching among the unemployed”. The most recent National Household Travel Survey found that more than two-thirds of households with an income less than R1 000 a month spend more than 20 percent of their income on transport.
RRT’s inclusive approach to socio-economic development is reflected in the municipality‘s stipulation that at least 25 percent of the value of construction and other contracts be spent on local procurement from B-BBEEE suppliers, while contractors are required to partner with local companies and build skills capacity.
Construction of the RRT (which began in June) will provide an estimated 5 000 contract jobs and over 1 000 permanent jobs for local residents. A significant aspect of the RRT is its inclusion of the local taxi industry, whereby affected bus and taxi operators will have the opportunity to apply for contracts from the Rustenburg Local Municipality to operate the RRT system.
RRT will also improve Rustenburg’s standing as a tourist destination. A range of transport options accessible from the system’s stations will connect visitors directly to tourist attractions and leisure destinations around the city.
As rapid transport systems slowly put more and more local cities on the road to growth and development, RRT will be the one to watch over the next few years.