The future of public transport

The future of public transport

An effective public transport system should not be the priority of government alone. The transport sector is one of the areas where partnerships between the government and business can achieve the greatest returns in a relatively short period. This is the view of KATHY BELL who heads up Transport Solutions at Standard Bank.


As was witnessed during the World Cup in June, the potential for an efficient public transport system is there.  What needs to be done is to increase public participation to ensure that the objectives of public transport are met.  The private sector, from financial institutions to private bus operators and users all need to be involved in the process of creating a public transport facility that is safe, reliable and convenient. 

Moving South Africa, the Action Plan, the Natmap 2050, the National Transport Land Act of 2009, the Intelligent Transport System policy and various other policies all reveal one thing: an intention to create an accessible transport system. The system should improve not only the safety, security, reliability, quality, and speed of transporting goods and people, but also promote its competitiveness through transport systems with infrastructure that is effective and efficient.

One of the biggest challenges is to implement the plans and create a sound proposition for future customers. It is here that stakeholder involvement can assist in achieving transport policy objectives.

By involving parties such as municipal and independent bus operators, the taxi industry, road agencies, rail services and government departments such as Human Settlements, a comprehensive plan can be put in place that will ensure a seamless public transport system.

In practice, this means planning for routes would be a much easier process. All parties could agree on main and feeder routes. Timetables and routes could be synchronised so that commuters always have access to some form of transport.

While this means there has to be more investment made in buying new and maintaining older public transport vehicles so that there are enough of these vehicles to service all commuters, mere investment in vehicles is not doing nearly enough to get people to use public transport. There needs to be continuous investment in road infrastructure, support services for operators and spatial planning. When houses are built on the outskirts of cities, there need to be roads built to ensure that public transport can reach residents living in those new settlements. Every South African should have access to public transport.

In the Unites States, websites often provide a case for using public transport by providing carbon calculators so consumers can work out their carbon footprint if they take their own car versus public transport. Similar calculators in South Africa can help change the mindset of South Africans. Not just with a view to reducing carbon footprints, but also in terms of helping them calculate savings in fuel, car maintenance and car allowances.

Public transport needs to be made attractive to commuters. If the intention is to compel South Africans to park their cars and use public transport, it will not help to make driving their own car difficult. Public transport needs to be safe, reliable, convenient and affordable. Public transport needs to be adopted by choice rather than be forced on people. People need to be enticed to use public transport through incentives and savings. Ticket subsidies and tax savings are just two ways to get people to use public transport.

The World Cup offers many lessons on running an efficient transport system.  It was South Africa’s first real attempt at providing a reliable mass transit system and how well we did! However shortcomings need to be addressed: The power failure that stranded commuters using the Metrorail service after one of the soccer matches and the BRT bus driver strike during the tournament revealed there needs to be an emergency back-up plan.

The Gautrain is another example of the strides we have made in innovation in the transport industry. Ensuring there are accessible timetables so that commuters can plan their own trips, visible signage on roads so that commuters know where to find their transport and reliable security so that they know they will be safe are relatively simple solutions that will go a long way in changing the perception of public transport in South Africa.

South African is well on the way to creating a reliable transport system that works for all South Africans. 

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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