Growing up using public transport, you learn a lot that just is not easily documented. Over time, more young and old people with long stories of and about public transport will share stories, narratives and build new horizons for this industry. With increasing average incomes, rising private car ownership— in black households— there is a spirit of escape surrounding the various public transport modes. It is an aspirational issue, in which being relieved from the route-based attitudinal constraints clouding public transport in SA has become an important part of justifying the parts imported and assembled here.
The public transport industry is vast, complex and largely misunderstood by spectators— while deeply commented, speculated, and aggravated by individuals within and outside the industry. One thing for sure: operators who serve the public parallel to traditional scheduled transport services are doing something internationally intriguing. What ranges from “paratransit” to “demand responsive transit” is an array of service structures that remain poorly discussed and challenged by the political economy and how it is charged. While the Taxi Scrapping Programme is being revitalised, it remains largely behind the curve with respect to the manner in which recpatilisation cycles actually work on (a) industrial; (b) service and (c) policy levels. Our discussion on MetroFM with Ayabonga Cawe reveals this issue on the surface, but I’d like to narrow it down to one specific mode of service that is probably the most isolated: the venture.
Ventures, are meso-transit vehicles, which serve local trips between and within townships. These vehicles carry 8-9 passengers and charge relatively low prices per journey. In some areas they vary by destination, in other areas they are flat due to the route structure. A popular narrative around paratransit in South Africa, focuses specifically on minibus taxis— while paratransit as a term refers to all modes that operate parallel to traditional scheduled transit services; and have an owner-operator type structure. Almost to the same extent that young men graduate into minibus taxi vehicles as drivers, owners and industrialists; there has always been the under market of venture services.
How do these operators generate income? As townships were designed as (a) labour-camp satellites; and (b) closed loops with limited regional entry and exit ways (i.e. settlement containment) trunk based operations by buses just can’t penetrate these spaces. Over time, these neighbourhoods grow, expand, and reveal a tension between suburban housing, rural subsistence, and informal cheap housing. Minibus taxis are viable at scaled-distances and densed origin and destination trip-and-passenger combinations. For townships they could serve longer connections between townships and major attractions such as the city, or those individuals who are willing to rank-and-file for a trip. Simultaneously, given the manner in which routes are allocated, they operate parallel to Ventures, which navigate through and within and between township spaces with micro-transfers, and complex trip combinations.
There is a political economy of affiliation, which there is no time to describe here, but it is quite obvious that such operators are much more erratic, and dynamic than Minibus vehicles most city-dwellers type about. Specifically because of the smaller vehicle sizes, higher vehicle numbers and even more complex trip-to-passenger combinations. Perhaps they are micro-local transit services, highly responsive to demand; or they operate parallel to paratransit— as a sub-class of services. Either way, they are vital for the young, and elderly in accessing key locations at a reasonable price, and decent travel time. The only way to justify their trips is to keep the passenger numbers minimal, trips frequent and speeds high. Travelling locally, can not have another opportunity like this one— even as Tuk-Tuks encroach the paratransit industry in SA.