Stop pouring concrete!

Stop pouring concrete!

This month we ask: what’s really needed to properly plan public transport?

So, bring on the feasibility study. Last month’s column ended with that sentence. We were referring to the Gautrain’s next feasibility study (FS) which is now long overdue. Back in February 2015, Gautrain CEO Jack van der Merwe was quoted as saying that it “should be completed by January (2016)”.

While we wait, let’s look at another FS. It is a small one, but indicative of our dysfunctional transport set-up. Tucked away in the classified section of the Star of May 25 is a notice from Ekurhuleni Municipality, calling for public comment on its intention to “assess, review and explore the most appropriate mechanism to deliver its municipal bus services”. The notice is “required by section 78 of the Municipal System Act 32 of 2000”.

Suddenly we are confronted with section 78 (which requires municipalities to consult the public when deciding to offer a service through an “external mechanism”). I have no recollection of Ekurhuleni invoking section 78 before it started construction on its bus rapid transit (BRT) system (known as Harambee). I don’t recall Johannesburg doing it either. Indeed, Johannesburg’s BRT planners not only ignored public input, they stonily rejected it – but that will have to be a subject for another time.

The mystery deepens when we go back to the Sunday Times of April 17, where Van der Merwe assures us that “when the Metrorail upgrades and the three BRT networks all become fully operational, the whole integrated system will click together”.

If that is true, what is the point of doing a section 78 review? Ekurhuleni is one of the three BRT “networks” referred to, but another astonishing discovery is that its website shows that Harambee fizzles out in Tembisa, and goes nowhere near the Gautrain station in Midrand. Surely this would be essential before any “integrated” system can “click together”?

None of these inconsistencies have bothered the promoters of the Gautrain, though. The campaign to soften us up for further expansion of the Gautrain is now in full swing.

There is more spin in the Business Day of May 11, where CEO Van der Merwe confidently assures us that: “The Government’s commitment to developing public transport is expressed in the Integrated Transport Master Plan. Gautrain 2 will start from Mamelodi … It will also feed Lanseria … And we will go underneath the city to the M2 highway…”

No mention of section 78 there!

By the way, Van der Merwe himself is also destined for bigger things: “A veteran of the transport sector, he is in consideration to head a long-overdue and much-needed transport board. It will oversee transport services across the country in an effort to find solutions to harmonising systems and mobility”.

Sorry, but before we start overseeing transport services all over the country, we need to find people who know something about running standard buses, which, according to now-missing Annexure F, is the most suitable form of transport for low-population-density areas. Some background in sorting out minibus-taxi issues might also help. I don’t know of anyone in South Africa with that kind of expertise.

So let’s be sceptical about the integrity of the entire Gauteng Transport Plan, let alone the upcoming FS. These are merely cover-ups, while the engineers pour concrete all over the province. There is no Annexure F. There are no details of bus routes. There is nothing about short-term implementation, integrated fares or schedules.

My suggestion to Ekhurhuleni is to quietly drop its call for input (which it will probably ignore anyway). Rather, it should reorganise its existing bus service to integrate better with the Metrorail stations and eliminate the duplication of the bus service along Jules Street with Johannesburg Metrobus. Does the Boksburg depot still shut down at 16:00?

We should rather be asking the saintly MEC for transport in Gauteng, Ismail Vadi, to start cracking the whip in his dysfunctional department and rein in the promoters of the Gautrain, who shrewdly positioned it beyond the reach of section 78.

Going back to 2015, Van der Merwe announced: “We are considering running an additional short train on the busiest section, from Centurion to Sandton. It will only travel between those two stations.” The bosses of the Gautrain also need to demonstrate some expertise in running standard buses.

Here’s a tip: Combine the Gautrain feeder routes C1, M1, M3 and S3 into one long route linking Centurion and Sandton. It will be a slow trip – around 120 minutes – but it will at least demonstrate that Gautrain has a clue about organising bus routes, something which it has notably failed to do so far.  

There’s more to running public transport than pouring concrete all over the place and doing meaningless “public comment” exercises.


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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