#170- How integrated public transport networks need to balance transport systems, services and institutional networks

SATC 2019— Mr Obed Moleele reporting on the progress and challenges of the Rustenburg Rapid Transport project.

The South African transportation, mobility and access economy is undergoing fundamental shifts in how it operates. Ranging from new transportation systems being introduced under a tense environment, or even old service provisions being revived to reflect the digital age. Underlying this is a need for policy reforms that reflect what truly takes place in practice. Rustenburg Rapid Transit’s Yarona aims to pull people together and move Rustenburg forward. Rustenburg, the city has grown faster than most in South Africa and in the North West Province at large. From 550 000 inhabitants to 620 000 between 2011 and 2016 coupled by a 31% increase in the number of households to 260 000 within the same period. It only suggests that the city is evolving rapidly but it is also confronted with deep spatial complexities that influence capital allocation decisions and travel demand alike.

This brief note describes some of the tactile characteristics of the city with respect to implementing an effective and efficient Bus Rapid Transit system.

The city cannot expand at will, due to the deep platinum mining industry and historical settlements in addition to the topography. However, it does raise questions about the manner in which investments for public transport are allocated, prioritised and embedded within the transit system, service and practices. This brief note describes some of the tactile characteristics of the city with respect to implementing an effective and efficient Bus Rapid Transit system. Particular emphasis is placed on how integrated public transport networks are not simply about routes, transit vehicles and commuter traffic volumes— but much more about the interrelated networks which should underpin transit investment. decisions.

Tensions between development and growth are evident at intersections

Compared to Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban, Rustenburg is less than one third of the population of these major cities with populations above 3 million inhabitants. When some authors run simulations to see how provinces could become more productive, Rustenburg could fall into Gauteng just because of both the proximity and intensity of traffic between it and the City of Tshwane. Nevertheless, this from a regional development perspective suggests that there are significantly attractive trips between Rustenburg and other cities, whether it is for the purpose of tourism (i.e. Sun City) or establishing company offices at this regional hub. The Special Economic Zone designation reflects the relationship between the airstrip and the railway station which are key points of industrial development within the industrial zone of the city. Meanwhile, settlements orbit around this development and separated by major roadways and regional gateways towards the rest of the North West Province. Settlements around the area need to commute to the city centre, industrial centre and neighbourhoods in order to participate actively and earn an income.   

The Phase 1 A Yarona network reflects a lean into future development, but not necessarily the potential traffic complexities emanating from a need to have efficient logistics in the city and effective public transport services. Most emerging cities struggle with this confrontation because freight is one of the drivers of the city’s growth, and sustenance (i.e. foodstuffs). Public transport offers mobility and access opportunities for households who need to participate economically, socially and spatially. However, the transport policy framing reflects some peculiar limitations to what municipalities are capable of doing in terms of facilitating both of these deep tensions in freight and passenger movement.

Lloyd Wright from the University College London wrote a seminal report which set the scene for Bus Rapid Transit around the world. Much of the practitioner advocacy and debate revolves around his work and reports. Of importance in South Africa’s public transport environment is the difference between bus lanes and busways, given what is in popular terms “dedicated lanes”. Their impact on the city and its logistics is a much neglected theme, hopefully this piece provides some insight about the complexity of actually getting the balance right. Read his report here.

While the transport infrastructure could in some cases be good such as the provision of zebra crossing, clear dedicated lanes and tactile surfaces at intersections there are important tensions to notice. As pedestrians walk through the city with luggage at hand, or when intersections are complicated by petroleum company needs to protect signage through barriers. On one hand it is reasonable to provide navigated spaces for pedestrians, but on the other hand the obstructions are so complex that cycling along this route for a young person might be difficult, even though the corridor is universally accessible. The tension between development and growth is that: enabling more business could change the manner in which space is utilised and obstruct the ground level objectives for mobility; meanwhile increasing the productivity of the location itself. Should integrated public transport networks reflect this simple tension? 

Transport and land-use integration done right the wrong way

When emerging cities have to transition from being dominated by paratransit, toward integrating them with scheduled service designs there are deep complexities that need to be accounted for. Existing bus operators, paratransit operators and other transport services may need to be part of the same platform on an institutional level.     Major cities tend have roads laid out and maintenance would simply be part of the status quo. For emerging cities, investing in new corridors, is contradicted by dilapidated transport facilities for existing services. Roadways do not reflect the future complexities in which some operators could violate the dedicated space allocated to rapid buses. Furthermore, existing bus operations tend to continue parallel to the new service without being part of it. Bicycle lanes will be carved by cyclists right next the side-walk, letting the planners and officials know that there is something missing. However, where Rustenburg Rapid Transport is doing well is understanding that transport depends on good quality land-uses. One station central to the system is located in middle of Rustenburg’s commercial hub for retail. This hub will need deeper interventions but the site selection is profoundly useful. 

The question however is whether getting the roadway, interchange, sidewalk or complementarity right between scheduled and unscheduled travel demand would yield any positive results. It is very easy to do it right the wrong way largely because when officials, and practitioners think of integrated public transport networks all they consider are the physical networks, corridors and feeder routes. Instead, this note proposes an expansive view of this issue so that officials may debate the kind of networks that are necessary for transportation system development and implementation. 

Transportation systems thinking for public transport agencies

Transportation agencies, authorities and boards are rather new to the South African transport policy landscape. While the National Land Transport Act No. 5 of 2009 as amended, argues that municipalities have key functions related to transportation planning, administration, management, development, marketing, and implementation. Municipalities receive equitable shares of public funds which sometimes do not reflect the depth of investments in sunk-costs that are necessary in order to propel the municipality. Meanwhile, the underlying public procurement or supply chain management systems are yet to become responsive and receptive to more ad-hoc technology and service based solutions which are low cost but high impact.

Are “rapid” transit systems focused on facilitating accessibility by providing mobility services, or is it concerned with providing access to facilitate mobility?

Most agencies take advantage of their relative responsiveness to new technology and information systems solutions, but what is done within the agencies tends to be difficult to replicate with other organisations, such as: bus companies, minibus associations and meter taxi associations, among others. Here is where we find that the interactions between the environment, society and the public sector should inform policy by mediating the tension between options in terms of the technology (i.e. bus, minibus, Yarona) and activity options (i.e. home, work, leisure). Both of these spaces inform two layers which need to be planned for: the transport system and the activity system— which interact in the form of “flows”. Using this framework, it is appropriate to account for the complex dynamics that a transport agency like RRT needs to navigate through from a network perspective. To confront the idea of a network, we must consider what access, mobility and flows actually mean:

“Mobility is not an easy concept to define. In ordinary parlance it usually refers to the ease with which a person can move about or the amount of movement he performs. But what is important is not movement as such; it is access to people and facilities. Access, not movement, is the true aim of transport. One may have access to facilities without moving much at all. An immobile person may have water and gas at the flick of a switch, have his refuse collected, receive calls from his doctor, and deliveries from the shops, be informed and entertained by wireless television, talk to his friends on the telephone, all without stirring from his house. In a well endowed town a person may have access to a vast range of facilities with very little travelling. While possibly less mobile in the ordinary sense of the word than someone who travels greater distances to work, school and recreation or to visit friends, he may nevertheless be better placed, since the act of travel, with the time, cost and personal effort involved, is something which he usually would prefer to avoid.”

Gerald Houseman, The Right of Mobility, 1979. Kinnikat Press.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) published a report which focused specifically on advising municipalities about the type of accessibility that households would need for accessible public services. This meant that public service points, such as healthcare, education, home affairs, law enforcement and labour needed to be located within certain distances from the average household based on the settlement size and the number of people in the area.

Accessibility in this report meant that transport agencies may not necessarily be looking to provide the most optimal routes, but they would facilitate a network of access to public services through mobility. Yes, it is possible for some patients to be treated at home, or for law enforcement to be called via mobile phone, or even transport services to be hailed from home— but to what extent does the transport system offer accessibility? Is the RRT system focused on facilitating accessibility by providing mobility services, or is it concerned with providing access to facilitate mobility? This tension can only be mediated through understanding transport flows.

Transport agencies as project network platforms

When considering the complexities involved in implementing the RRT, it is important to reflect on the extent to which existing operators were consulted, and the information, and institutional flows that had to take place to make it acceptable. On one hand it involved direct consultation with operators and related businesses, and on the other it involved data collection and market analysis. While traditionally, integrated public transport networks would focus on traffic flows to justify certain interventions— but this too had procurement, supply chain, and specialities flowing between the agency, communities and other entities. Public participation was a key element to the RRT project itself, and thus it is also a flow of information in the form of community values with respect to future assets and services. There are quite easily numbers flows which take the form of (inter alia):

  1. traffic flows which range from non-motorised to motorised;  
  2. information flows which are internal or external to the organisation in question; 
  3. policy or institutional flows which related to how regulations move between and within organisations and communities in order to achieve a specific objective; and 
  4. value flows which are really about how meaning, beliefs and values move over space and within time (also referred to as motility). 

This immediately highlights the limited nature of not only the idea of integrated public transport networks as presented in the National Land Transport Act No. 5 of 2009 as amended, largely because it does not describe the underlying prerequisites for this to be realised. With the annotated Amendment described below, it is rather clear that the sole focus on bus stations, bus vehicles and integrating minibus taxis does not reflect the underlying principles for true modal integration. From non-motorised mobility to accessible public transport developed in a network of services and information systems that can enable a trip to be completed.


*Given the tensions and complexity in Rustenburg, this note is of importance. This note was originally presented to the Rustenburg Rapid Transport team, based on a site visit. It informed some of their notes presented at the Southern African Transport Conference in 2019.

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