#171- Signs falling beyond public transport

IT’S ALL IN BLACK AND WHITE– Signs keep falling, torn, broken and laces thrown near cups, broken bottles and dry orange skins. Says a lot about the transport sector- what it is and what it is not. Nevertheless, the new traffic light stands tall, shines bright and let’s us know when to turn on time. Both exist at the same intersection.

Last night, I had the privilage of sifting through some lessons learnt from various conversations and people. This was on Newz Room Africa, channel 405, practically my first full sitting with Prof Jackie Walters from the University of Johannesburg. We had differing views, but it was important to enable the news reporter to get as many questions on her list as possible. The first one relates to where transport solutions should come from; the second emanates from the Smarter Mobility Africa summit, which served as a platform for me to moderate a conversation between some interesting stakeholders in the transport sector. Maybe we need to move away from just talking about “public transport”, and take a system wide view of the issue.

Customer centricity and policy sensitivity

In the sitting, the interviewer asked “what would incentivise transport users to use public transport?” This coming from the backdrop of a series of questions about anarchy in the transport space; and social cohesive impacts of public transport. Underlying my responses were two themes: (a) customer centricity; and (b) policy sensitivity. Customer centricity does not only refer to the commuter, as Geoffrey Brickford from the South African Cities Network highlighted at the SMA2019. Instead, it refers to all users and operators interacting with the transportation system. To what extent do we really go in depth to understand the customer’s experience? Customers of infrastructure like roads, sidewalks and bikelanes; or even customers of municipal services in our cities and towns are key actors. If there is no place for them to articulate their positions and be heard, then history will dictate that they protest in order to be heard. However, without the right methodologies and systems in place within transport authorities, customers of transport systems and services may be heard but go without being listened to.

This brings about a situation where truly listening involves a new layer of governance, which is hihgly informed beyond Household Travel Surveying– but more deeply, more sensitively. Policy sensitiviy refers to a situation where policies are specified with great proximity to the public interest. As the public interest changes, policies respond by ensuring legitimate positions that harness a greater level of compliance. Not advocating for compliance prior to leading with legitimacy. Force, in this case is not a source of power, influence however gives way to leadership. Influence is an essential resource for attracting customers to a good quality brand or service: how would public sector influence without investing in the interventions which matter most?

Modernising the minibus taxi industry

Early models for the Gautrain highlighted the inclusion of minibus taxi services as the core last-mile contract partner (see their footnote); the emergence of BRT through the public transport strategy 2007 seemed to exclude the minibus taxi industry; most recently interventions in transport planning (i.e. data collection); subsidy policy proposals and internal reforms wherein associations are converting themselves into companies. Here we see new narratives in investments in taxi ranks; land ownership and leasing options; and pressure to change the financing models for public transport vehicles (see Mr Nodada’s note). Are alternative energy vehicles under the same capital and financing framework?

Furthermore, there are labour organisation, protection and development caveats which need to be filled between associations, companies, SANTACO and TaxiChoice.  In addition to this, passenger ergonomic issues which remain underdiscussed and poorly managed be it for driver wellness or passenger safety (i.e. comfort and ease of wearing a seatbelt in a taxi, universal access). While the need to encourage public transport interchanges, intermodalism and land-uses which capture value, economic policy proposals emphasising access pricing, economic regulation. Customer orientation has emerged through the digital platforms which provide various sharing services to customers; while new companies are emerging aimed at managing drivers.

Planning for and valuing our own solutions to mobility and access issues

Panel members made significant contributions highlighting the importance of localisation, planning for and valuing our own. Geoffrey Brickford started the session off with a report titled Move the city 2035: Minibus Taxi Scenarios in which he presents institutional scenarios, for reform within a key framework which reveals important tensions between proactivity and reactivity; and disruptive innovation and “innovation that enhances” see Vuyi Majola’s comment (SANTACO Gauteng).  It was through his contributions and those of Ntsie Matlhoko from AfteRobot that I came to lean more toward the user voice. AftaRobot presented a minibus taxi oriented service management and administration too. Here the taxi marshal, driver, vehicle and commuter are integrated into one central system. This was followed by a presentation from Darren Chapman, from Eskom who presented the energy impacts of electric minibus taxi services. It was important for him to present as network industries, transport and electric systems, services and infrastructure interact with customer experience, regulatory options and equity dynamics which accentuate the need for interrelation. There remains much to reflect on as Shaun Mhlanga emphasises that self-regulation might be the way to go for the minibus taxi industry to develop.

Beyond public transport

At some point we need to have a discussion beyond public transport as the “headline”, so to type. Largely because the systematic nature of what we call “public transport” is a byproduct of so many other factors ranging from land-uses, to infrastructure, to technology and systems. Particularly because when we do talk about public transport it is treated as if it operates in isolation: no other customers, modes, systems or services are involved. This is far from the truth: roadways are shared spaces for more than one service. Private cars offer a certain value for specific types of trips; while public transport could be car competitive on other journeys. All of transport is a product of the prerequisites for mobility and access– because it is a derived demand. Mixed land-use means, new types of city logistics; more public transport means new industrial incentives and projects; and car competitive public transport means marketing and communication systems to enhance the quality of service– perceived or actual. When we talk about road safety, we’re talking about contracts of trust these go beyond law enforcement and behaviour change– it’s a tension between responsibility and the ability to respond. Maybe, public transport is a small part of the issue.

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