Transport services and infrastructure are sometimes victims and tools for protests and demonstrations. Local constructive dialogues need to lend a hand, warrant action and uplift communities.
Buses are burnt, tires set alight, and roadways are blocked. These scenes are an expectation when a protest goes rouge and riots out of exhaustion. At the same time, buses and other forms of transport are used to mobilize a crowd — bringing the public to the contentious issue. This paradox intrigues me because from a service perspective disruptions in the system can be costly for users and operators. But from a policy and practical perspective one must ask what can be done.
Protest vs Demonstration
The difference between protests and demonstrations is not complicated. Protests are used to stop, or pause action in order to make a public submission on an issue. The submissions range from violence to Memorandums of Understanding between and across parties. Demonstrations are used to inspire action through example and practical experience related to an issue. A number of protests result in burnt public transport services, very few demonstrations show the value of transport infrastructure. Where protests represent the value of transport infrastructure, it is through blockades and inconvenience. This attracts the media and results in police presence. Demonstrations are relegated to the corner of the mainstream eye primarily because they reflect a lacking work ethic, an incompetence in practice and shows the entities or people responsible for the issue the extent to which they are not doing their part. In this sense, protests are much easier to swallow than demonstrations, hence they are popular.
Communities calming traffic
Recently in Mahikeng a family lost a 12 year old to a 60km/h speed limit cutting through a highly pedestrian dense environment. At the scene of the incident the public had build speed humps and collected funds for the grieving family. Counting the meters from impact to the batch of blood, I estimated about an 18m slingshot. Which practically through me off from a local area planning perspective. Some community leaders said that they were ready to protest; but instead hoped to demonstrate what is necessary for the patch of road.
This incident, is not isolated and highlights questions about the avenues township settlements have to apply for warrants in terms of traffic calming measures. It also raises questions about the local area planning and service design issues on the patch of road. Residents reported that there have been similar incidents with adult cyclists and pedestrians. This is a relatively dense settlement and houses a route from other villages coming as far as Itsoseng, Bodibe, through Setlopo and so on, through Stadt up to the town center and toward other activities. Theoretically this is an access route, and should be calmed. But it is used as a mobility route — hence the dangerous lack of context specificity in the roadway design and traffic treatments.
Public voices warrant an ear ready to listen and act
Transport services and infrastructure are victims of public unrest. In an intuitive manner, taking streets and tipping buses is a strong source of attention. Gridlocking traffic, leaving commuters stranded, holding the public hostage from a mobility and access perspective are key ingredients to media coverage. At the same time, they induce a general outcry to the seriousness of a public issue. Most officials respond through condemning, sanctioning services and various other means. But such action is only temporarily effective.
A system that recognises local communities in their identification of problems, facilitates their voices and as such prescribes standards warranting immediate action on a matter.
Protest preventative legislation is not one that prohibits protests. It is legislation and institutional capacity that encourages and systematically facilitates continuous and constructive public participation. A system that recognises local communities in their identification of problems, facilitates their voices and as such prescribes standards warranting immediate action on a matter. For example, where local communities felt that they needed to build speedhumps, the local municipality could have:
- received notice of a grievance through an effective and active community service helpline,
- evaluated the roadway through safety audits after police work and forensic evaluation,
- met with ward leaders and community representatives within 7 days of the incident,
- performed a travel impact assessments (over a two week period) using temporary calming measures along various segments of the roadway (installed within 24 hours of the incident),
- presented permanent measures to calm traffic and,
- proposed a local area mobility evaluation throughout the area and related areas along the route, and
- public financial provisions are necessary for such emergency measures and should be ring fenced or locally funded by affording community segments.
In SA, municipalities are stuck in perpetual planning cycles, without sufficient engagement. Public participation schemes are significantly diverse and require a genuine care for the public good. There is nothing more painful than loosing a daughter because “we’re waiting for the plan to be approved by the Member of Executive Council”. In this sense I’m practically proposing a shift from protocol oriented legislation and planning, to an engaged cycle of incremental implementation through dialogue and demonstration. One “imbizo” limits the conversation between a married couple: public service and local communities. For transport planning, given the nature of the industry, we need devolved and funded transport functions on the ground to truly demonstrate what facilitating quality of life feels like.