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‘People Transport’ remains a critical issue in South Africa

The 2016 Southern African Bus Operators Association (SABOA) conference earlier this year highlighted just how crucial a modern, well-developed public transport infrastructure is to South Africa’s economic development and socio-political transformation.

Mercedes-Benz buses for the Gautrain service line a street in Rosebank.
Mercedes-Benz buses for the Gautrain service line a street in Rosebank.

The transport sector has the potential to unleash opportunities for the much needed economic growth the country seeks. Add to this the needs of the majority (about 80%) of South Africans for an effective, safe and reliable public transport system, and it makes perfect sense that government is investing billions of rand in South Africa’s transport infrastructure.

In addition to providing economic leadership, Government has re-affirmed its political will to address the challenges in the transport industry, leaving industry stakeholders with a much clearer picture and more confidence in the road ahead.

people_transportAddressing the conference, the Director General of Transport, Pule Godfrey Selepe (on behalf of Transport Minister Dipuo Peters), informed the audience about those recent developments in the public transport environment that are relevant to Southern African Bus Operators Association members.

Selepe made it clear that the bus industry is one of the critical pillars on which public transport in the country rests and, therefore, an important partner of government.

There are about 25 000 buses in the industry, of which around 18 000 are used in paid-for public transport. About 6 000 buses are used in commerce and industry and government institutions where they are mostly used for in-house purposes, i.e. not for revenue.

The economic impact of buses used for public transport translates to an estimated replacement value of R25 billion, direct employment of 30 600 people, and indirectly to about 153 000 people. Public transport operators do approximately 816 million passenger trips a year. The industry also supports a large number of suppliers, such as bus and chassis manufacturers, and fuel (around

The industry also supports a large number of suppliers, such as bus and chassis manufacturers, and fuel (around 450 million litres of diesel) and tyre companies who are dependent on the success of bus operators.

Government’s subsidy levels for rail and road public transport is high – at roughly 60%

Government’s subsidy levels for rail and road public transport is high – at roughly 60% of the cost of rendering the service – compared to about 30% elsewhere in the world. Selepe said that the bus industry has every reason to be confident of the future, especially as Government believes in it and is “backing that belief with money”.

Public Transport electric Volvo city bus in Sweden.
An electric Volvo city bus in Sweden.

Furthermore, Selepe stressed that a strong foundation has been laid for a successful bus industry and Integrated Rapid Public Transport Networks (currently implemented in the 12 municipalities that are the largest urban centres in the country) with the implementation of the Public Transport Turnaround Strategy.

 

Government is of the opinion that the picture looks infinitely brighter for bus operators, but acknowledges that there are still obstacles to overcome – with one of the biggest hindrances the month-to-month contracts for subsidised commuter bus services.

The National Land Transport Strategic Framework (NLTSF)

The Deputy Director General of Transport, Mathabatha Mokonyama, addressed the conference on the NLTSF, with specific reference to the department’s accelerated turnaround plan for the contract bus industry.

Mokonyama presented specific interventions to the NLTSF:

  • Public transport has to be designed and managed as an integrated network (bus, rail, taxis), and not as isolated modes of transport, which is currently the case. Such integration will make it easier to align funding.
  • IPTN components should be scaled down because of their high costs, and the focus should be on providing quality integrated public transport (conventional bus contracts and taxis where possible).
  • A differentiated strategy to determine appropriate solutions for different public transport challenges in 21 each area. The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.
  • Funding for public transport has to be reviewed to mitigate fragmentation, such as PTOG, PTISG, PTNOG and TRP.
A Scania long-distance coach.
A Scania long-distance coach.
Iveco minibus
Iveco minibus

One of the most encouraging topics for the whole of the bus industry that was shared by the Deputy Director was that the parliamentary process for the Public Transport Operating Grant (PTOG) allocation for 2015/16 has been finalised.

“We have an additional R250 million a year (half of the requested R500 million), so we are still getting an increase, whereas all other budgets in government have been cut. The PTOG increase is also above the Consumer Price Index (CPI).”

Mokonyama concluded his presentation by saying that the Accelerated Public Transport Turnaround Plan is being finalised for consultation, and that internal and external stakeholders will be consulted for their input prior to the finalisation and implementation of the plan.

Following the presentations by the two most senior government representatives, there was notably an improved common understanding of the road ahead, resulting in more confidence amongst conference attendees.

Selepe and Mokonyama made many more noteworthy arguments than what Trucks & Heavy Equipment is able to capture in this article. Therefore, for your convenience, Trucks & Heavy Equipment is publishing their presentations on its website at trucksmag.co.za.

By Madelaine van Wyk

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Staff Writer
Seasoned writer, journalist, photographer, and editor.
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