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Our plan to keep Cape Town moving - Robin Carlisle

Politicsweb: Our plan to keep Cape Town moving - Robin Carlisle

Robin Carlisle

08 March 2010

WC transport minister says more road building would be counter-productive

Address to the Cape Town Press Club by Robin Carlisle, Western Cape Minister of Transport, March 8 2010

MY VISION TO CREATE A WORLD- CLASS PUBLIC TRANSPORT SYSTEM FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Many things contribute to the creation of a great city/city state. Iconic buildings that organically grace the landscape, such as our new Cape Town Stadium; the abundance of green space and the nurturing of heritage sites in our city are all factors in the unique lyrical construction of a space and a place to be proud of. The beat that uniquely drives all this and makes it work is of course transport.

Today we heard the tragic news that four cyclists were involved in a fatal road accident: three were killed and one is seriously injured. This appalling accident underlines the importance of creating a safe environment for cyclists, pedestrians as well as motorists. Too often, non-motorised transport is overlooked in road safety programmes and creating a public transport system.

My department has begun looking at measures to bolster cyclist safety on our roads. This includes identifying roads with the highest rate of cycling accidents and creating designated temporary cycling lanes on those roads.

The long-term objective is to expand dedicated cycling lanes on all identified major roads in line with international best-practice. The province wants to promote cycling as one of the many ways to reduce traffic congestion, protect the environment and promote healthy living.

As someone who cycled to work for more 10 years I fully understand the hazards cyclist face everyday. Accordingly, I have instructed our legal advisors to examine the prospect of changing traffic laws to oblige motorists to keep a distance of 1.5 metres between themselves and cyclists. This will make it unlawful for motorists to overtake cyclists in the face of oncoming traffic.

I have identified five critical questions that pertain to the development of a cutting-edge public transport system for the twenty-first century.

The first question is: can we reduce road congestion? The answer is an unequivocal "no" until we have an effective public transport system. No city has eliminated road congestion, but many like Stockholm, the European Green Capital of 2010, have significantly altered the manner in which its transport structure works. In 2008, there were 28 percent more bicycle users than the year before and 100 electric car charging stations were installed last year.

In stark contrast, congestion on our roads has now exceeded the tipping point.

The building of new roads and adding more lanes simply breeds more cars. And has never solved the problem of congestion. On the contrary, more roads equals more congestion. This has been the experience of every city that has taken this disastrous and financially ruinous route.

We are currently throwing R2.8 billion at the problem of 'relieving' congestion. In recognition that this is not the road we want to travel, the province has made a policy shift not to build new roads for the next four years. All funds earmarked for new roads in this period will be redirected towards investment in public transport or maintaining existing roads.

Our inner-city absorbs 200, 000 vehicles a day transporting some 275, 000 people. Inevitably this scars our streetscape and creates manmade jungles of unproductive space. Between a quarter and a third of all new buildings are dedicated to parking.

69% of Capetonians travel to work by private car, with a loading of approximately 1.3 persons per car. This is appalling inefficiency and I do not need to spell out the consequences for our fragile environment. In essence, we are going against the grain of city refashioning everywhere and incurring long-term negative effects to the health and productivity of Cape Town

The aim is to move away from a paradigm where cities are wired for the industrial age and reliant on huge amounts of fossil fuels. What we want are cities that have negligible carbon footprints and use less resources. To achieve this, we have to transform the profile of our public transport. This is not only to ensure that our vibrant city survives into the future making it socially mobile, environmentally sensitive and give it a bit of cosmopolitan funkiness, but a rather streamlined sexy appeal in the worldview.

So what are the defining characteristics of such a public transport system?

For one, it is scheduled and reliable. Two, it is frequent during peak time to avoid overcrowding. Three, it is integrated and comprehensive - commuters should not have to walk more than 500 metres to and from their bus, taxi or train. Interconnectivity, that much loved buzzword, is the name of the game. Four, it is safe for the whole trip. Lastly, it is affordable and operates eighteen hours a day. Most importantly, public transport is the fastest and most effective way to overcome the vestige of our apartheid heritage.

What is the current reality? Dismal. Our public transport for the functional commuter area of Cape Town, Drakenstein and Stellenbosch significantly fail to meet any of these characteristics. Even worse is the fact that it is in sharp decline, with fewer trips and at more expense.

We have to ask quite seriously if this scenario could be changed. In answer to this - our current rail and road network is capable of providing an exceptional public transport network. If co-ordinated properly, railways could provide the strong backbone for travel with buses, taxis' and other arterial forms of transport branching off for point to point contact. The railway is already a significant part of many people's lives, but in my opinion could be a much more exciting and viable primary method for Capetonians to get around.

In the development of a redrafted public transport system we have to examine what has gone wrong and trace our steps back to first causes. The apartheid regime for deliberate political purposes created upside down cities with high densities on the periphery instead of the centre, creating the longest and most expensive commutes in the world. Its military exploits diverted money from public transport. Political disintegration led to the collapse of mobility regulation, particularly in the mini bus taxis and freight haulage sectors.

Do we need a new transport plan for Cape Town? No. Every transport planner worth his or her salt knows what is needed. We need to prioritise the upgrading of railways and increase frequencies and extend routes. Watch this space for some creative thinking here. The roads need to become interstitial fillers to feed rail and trunk bus routes to create a complementary and carefully interlocking system. Once this balance is achieved inner-city car use will start to look really unattractive to commuters. In time this make public transport the only reliable option.

There is a fierce and urgent need to implement these refinements and the timescale is now. We need stakeholder participation; we need the collective effort toward a grand and achievable goal. This requires political will, and that is something this government does not lack.

What progress is being made? We are in total agreement that we are not getting nearly enough 'bang for our transport buck'. To remedy this, we will have to eliminate waste and seek new cash flows, particularly from increased integration, new users and advertising.

Failure to recognise the seamless co-ordination and precision needed to achieve our ends will be very career limiting for both politicians and bureaucrats. The city and the province have already agreed that only one system of management, monitoring, tracking, integrated ticketing, and commuter communication will be used.

The province, in keeping with our devolutionary approach, is preparing to transfer regulatory and subsidy operations to the city. In due course, we will establish a Public Transport Operating Entity to manage and co-ordinate all transport modalities.

Above all, the financial chiefs have agreed to the golden rule that we will not commit to capital and operating expenditure which we have not secured or cannot service in the future.

Let me give you a quick tour de horizon of what we need to implement an effective transport system

  • We need 600 to 800 buses. We have them, but their configuration is not ideal.
  • We need 6000 to 7000 taxis. We have more than enough.
  • We need 117 train sets, but we only have 83.
  • We also need the partial incorporation of Dial-a-Ride, the Jammie Shuttle, the school bus service and the hospital transport service.We are also looking at a rail link to the airport.
  • We need increased and improved 'park and ride' facilities at stations and interchanges.
  • We are presently looking at expanding Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and the possibility to privatise and concession special services on the railways.
  • We must develop a substantial tourist business with weekend specials to popular family outing spots and bring the Southern Suburbs line to full profitability.
  • We believe public transport must be for the many, not just the few and we are no longer able to maintain our roads, and our rail business has almost vanished.
  • We are on the same trajectory as the rest of Africa where mobility is restricted to air travel. When roads and railways nosedive, so does the economy.

As the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) increases the incidence of tolling on the N1, N2, R300 and N7, many of the annual 2 million truck trips will be diverted on to provincial roads. This hastens their inevitable degradation and destruction.

The province is therefore committed to the imperative of shifting significant amounts of road freight on to rail as quickly and as extensively as possible.

Transnet is short of both motive and rolling stock, but there is much that can be done even within these limitations and we are working closely with them toward solutions.

Transnet is also about to release a number of branch lines for private usage. If these are not taken up, they will scrap them.

In the end, it depends on the will of the carriers and the province itself to save the provincial neck.

What are the major constraints to public transport? The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (PRASA) which operates Metrorail, has not met its growth targets in terms of additional train sets or improved infrastructure. Province will work with PRASA to obtain the necessary funding.

The Mini-bus Taxi industry is based on hard work, personal responsibility and risk rather than hand-outs. BEE interventions and subsidies have fallen victim to confusing, conflicting and inappropriate regulation applied haphazardly or not at all. This industry has therefore largely been forced to regulate itself, breeding violence, intimidation and lawlessness in many instances.

The incentive model of meeting targets has drivers literally sprinting to meet daily quotas. This degrades attention to road rules and the habits of safe driving. Consequently they have become a major cause of accidents. This template of remuneration needs to be looked at before we can expect de facto improvement of safe driving on our roads by this major player in public transport.

In addition to this, taxis do not operate to schedule. They cherry pick the peak hours. They compete with mainline transport and they delay passengers by stacking until they have a full load. There can be no inclusion of the taxi industry until they have been appropriately regulated and are satisfied that their inclusion will not be to their financial detriment.

Regulation is proceeding apace with significant improvements being made to the Provincial Operating Board, the Transport Registrars' Office and the Dispute Resolution Unit.

Harmonising the industry is essential, and we have made a start. The strategy is to get to full enforcement of regulation as soon as possible. As in all things, once the rogue taxi elements realise that the authorities are resolute, they will begin to relinquish their already marginalised position. We are working to draw the National Taxi Association into the forthcoming SANTACO Western Cape elections.

Law enforcement is now invigorated and conducting routine operations to restore law and order in public transport. These operations enable us to impound public transport vehicles which shouldn't have been our road in the first place. So much that our two pound facilities have little space left.

Accordingly, my department will be opening 6 to 8 pound facilities across the Province to accommodate the rising number of vehicles to accommodate vehicles that must be impounded. Impounding seriously focuses the industry's attention.

I have issued my new policy on taxi violence which is to curtail or freeze operations in a violent area until peace returns and the perpetrators of violence are in custody. This opens the way for sensible and pragmatic negotiations with the industry, where many of the associations are beginning to be supportive of what we are doing.

The success of every public transport system is intertwined with road safety. To this end, the province has launched a road safety campaign called SAFELY HOME. The aim of the campaign is to halve road fatalities by 2014. Many may think that this is an unrealistic target. But the sad reality is that accidents are avoidable. We would not have as many road fatalities as we currently do if all road users took personal responsibility to ensure that each one gets safely home everyday.

SAFELY HOME seeks to change existing perceptions about personal responsibility for road safety. Any road user who disregards that responsibility will face the full force of the rule-of-law without fear or favour. The Western Cape will not be a haven for reckless driving; drunk driving; unsafe public transport or private vehicles and illegal operators.

Now to look at what we need in terms of funding our goals: we require about R12 billion to resuscitate PRASA and set up the next four BRT trunk routes with appropriate feeder systems.

There will, for some time, be no available funds from National Treasury. However, SA National Roads Agency is proceeding with the extension of the R300 to Melkboschstrand in the North West and to the M3 in the South East at a cost of between R9b and R11b. This money will be effectively funded by National Treasury, whether it will be done by grants or through bonds guaranteed by Treasury. It is the stated intention of SANRAL to toll these roads.

There is no reason why we should suffer congested highways, an ailing public transport system and the eventual collapse of our road network. All we have to do is adjust our line of sight a little and look at the problem holistically. The city functions in an intricate organic fashion. Right now there are unjustifiable concentrations of private vehicles demanding greater resources and the majority needs are impaired. This paradigm is not supportable nor even desirable. The reality is that the extended R300 will soon be congested, just as the ring roads of Gauteng are already congested. The new ones being built will soon suffer the same entropy. We need to fine-tune the music of our city's heartbeat and have a vision toward a more harmonic system.

The people of the Cape have a simple choice. Do they want additional expensive peripheral roads that will have a marginal impact on the provincial economy? Or do they want an effective public transport system which will bolster and in fact future-proof the economy?

We have the will to implement our plan, the stamina and the sheer gutsiness to pull it off. But this will must be demonstrated by every citizen in the province. From the commuter in Khayelitsha facing a miserable overcrowded, unsafe and unreliable trip to town, to the Eco Warrior in Rondebosch dreaming of a sustainable global future, to the executive spending 15% of his working life stuck in traffic jams. These are the people we are working for.

But most of all this will must be manifested by you - the media. Just as transport drives the beat of the city, you are responsible for the finer spirit of our province. It is you who foster pride in our achievements, who get the debate going on our issues. All the while you enrich and educate the citizenry and inculcate a larger vision of the future in the hearts and minds of our people.

Everything is possible when we come together, even a future that spans far beyond our imagination.

Thank you.