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Transport Budget Debate

3rd July 2009, National Assembly

Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin, Deputy Minister

South Africa is on the threshold of a major transformation of public transport. This transformation won’t come all at once. It won’t happen everywhere simultaneously. It will, necessarily, be incremental. But, make no mistake, it is under-way.

It is being spurred on partly by government’s commitment to ensure that the major legacy we will derive from our hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be the beginnings of a public transport revolution.

But it is also being assisted by a growing awareness that despite outstanding achievements in the first 15 years of democracy, there are several key factors in our society that continue to actively reproduce inequality, poverty and underdevelopment. And one of these, perhaps one of the most important of these, is the spatial configuration of our society – the way in which space, where you live, where you are located, and therefore who you likely are in terms of class, gender and race, impact dramatically on the cost in time and money that it takes you to access work, education, and any of your basic constitutional and other rights – these matters continue to lie at the heart of the reproduction of gross and racialised inequalities in our society.

"Apartheid cities have unusual spatial contradictions”, notes the South African Cities Network, State of the Cities Report, 2004. On the one hand, they are sprawling realities with density levels that make effective public transport difficult to sustain. This has encouraged further sprawl and growing car dependence. On the other hand, there is relatively high density in the populous townships and informal settlements on the peripheries of our towns and cities.

Apartheid spatial planning was not only about the exclusion of the black majority of South Africans from rights, resources and wealth. It was also, simultaneously, about the controlled (and inferior) inclusion of this majority as commuting labourers into white-owned places of work. This pattern of inclusion/exclusion also played itself out in the relationship of our cities and towns to an impoverished rural hinterland of reserves and Bantustans. The black majority was held far away enough to be containable, close enough to be useful to a white minority. The social, economic and spatial realities set in place by decades of apartheid (and earlier forms of colonial segregation) are now not easy to unravel as we have discovered over the last 15 years.

What was once actively planned under apartheid is now often reproduced and compounded by market forces, in particular by property prices. One of the key political commitments of the new democratically elected government of 1994 was that a million low-cost, subsidised houses would be built within five years. But to meet this ambitious flagship target, the bulk of the now over 3 million low-cost houses have been located on peripheral land. Access and mobility inequities for the poor have often been deepened – unintentionally, of course.

To understand our present challenges in regard to public transport, it is necessary to understand the embedded spatial legacies that we are dealing with and the problems that they constantly reproduce. We cannot solve our public transport problems by way of transport alone – we need to work closely with municipalities and their IDPs. We need to work closely with the appropriately re-named Human Settlements Department. And we need to ensure that a key responsibility for the new Planning Commission in the Presidency is planning for the long-range spatial democratisation of our country.

However, while effective transport provision depends on a transforming built environment, we also need to appreciate that public transport can be a key catalyser for transforming our presently inequitable spatial realities. Good public transport can knit formerly divided communities together. Shifting away from an overemphasis on the sterile environment of car congested freeways – to public transport routes along which businesses, facilities, and mixed income settlements take root is a core component of nation building. Efficient and reliable public transport used by rich and poor alike fosters a sense of solidarity and national unity, in a way that tens of thousands of individual cars on a congested freeway never can.

We got a glimpse of these public transport possibilities from the FIFA Confederations Cup over the past weeks…and it is to this that I would now like to turn.

Yesterday, we held an extended MINMEC meeting, which included colleagues from our transport public entities as well as colleagues from host cities. A key agenda item was to critically review transport arrangements during the Confed Cup. Colleagues will be aware that FIFA’s president gave us a good (but not perfect) 7 out of 10 for our hosting of the Confed Cup. In particular, transport and accommodation were singled out as challenges.

Indeed, a number of transport problems were encountered. There are lessons that need to be learned. Some cities were less effective than others in their planning and preparations, and this showed up in heavy congestion during match days – Rustenburg was particularly culpable. Cities where there is an apparent lack of capacity will require dedicated attention from national and provincial spheres.

In most of the host cities, the key approach to transporting to and from stadiums was based on the Park and Ride principle. Park your car and catch a minibus shuttle to the stadium. Generally this approach worked relatively well, but there were numbers of glitches. Initially there was poor cooperation and a lack of shared information between transport officials, traffic officers and the police. There were different chains of command. Cars and shuttles were sometimes given conflicting directions.

The training of mini-bus operators on the shuttles appears also to have sometimes been inadequate. There was at least one report in the media of a Gauride shuttle getting lost on the way from Johannesburg to a Pretoria venue.

But all of this should certainly be counter-balanced with many favourable reports about the politeness of drivers, and about the sense of general safety that even suburban fans with their young families experienced on their way to matches. At least one letter writer to a newspaper (clearly an avid soccer fan) noted from first-hand experience a distinct improvement over the course of the six different Confed Cup matches he attended.

If transportation to stadiums sometimes proved complex, an even stickier problem occurred after matches. This was always going to be the tougher challenge. Fans arrive at a stadium over a two or three hour period, and this is more or less manageable for a fleet of minibus shuttles. But fans leave the stadium all in one go. Fans often experienced long delays or even difficulty in finding the correct departure point for shuttles taking them back to their particular Park and Ride facility. This was often attributable to poor or non-existent signage, and this was, in turn, partly a problem with FIFA’s refusal for us to put up transport signage in and around the stadiums. It is a matter that we will be taking up with them.

There are other problems that we have identified, including ineffective training and in some case low morale among volunteers at Park and Ride facilities. Indeed, we are reviewing the wisdom of using volunteers for transport related activities in 2010.

Perhaps the biggest lesson we have learnt from the past weeks of the Confed Cup is the imperative of having an effective, single command centre combining transport, traffic and security in one chain of command, and replicated at the local level. At a Park and Ride facility, at a stadium precinct, at the host city level someone (working of course with a team) needs to be in charge of the totality of operations, and they need to be contactable by and answerable to a command centre above them.

An assessment of transport in the Confed Cup would be incomplete without noting one of the most positive but largely unsung successes – the critical role that our Passenger Rail Agency (PRASA) was able to play. PRASA moved some 40,000 people to matches during the weeks of the Confed Cup. It was able to attract not just its traditional Metrorail customers but also higher income non-traditional customers. PRASA ran rail services from Johannesburg to Rustenburg and from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein (in the latter case transporting some 3000 fans to the SA/Spain match). These were on routes that have not been used in a long while. All went without a hitch.

There were also 28 train sets in operation between Coca Cola (Ellis) Park and Loftus stadiums. The Park and Ride principle was also used for parks adjacent to train stations and fans were able to take a ride to the newly refurbished Doornfontein station (a 2-minute walk to Ellis Park) and the Rissik station next to Loftus.

What can we learn from this? Our trains have a passenger capacity of between 2000 and 2500. They are mass movers. And this is why they, along with other mass-movers – our prospective Bus Rapid Transit and other Integrated Rapid Public Transport network systems – need to provide the back-bone for public transport mobility for 2010. And this is why it is so imperative that we move rapidly to the implementation of at least the first phases of these new mass movement systems – not at the expense of affected minibus operators, but through the effective involvement and integration of these operators into the new systems.

Towards the end of yesterday’s MINMEC assessment of the Confed Cup, my colleague, Western Cape Transport MEC Robin Carlisle eloquently summarised what I think was a collective conclusion. (I hope he will forgive me for quoting him): “We have crossed a threshold”, he said, “from asking how bad will it be?” (He was referring to public transport for 2010) “to asking how good can we make it?”

As we ask ourselves that question, we need also always to remember that 2010 public transport is not just about the event. It is about creating a new public transport legacy for future generations.

And that, I believe, is at the heart of the budget we have tabled before the National Assembly today.


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