276| 200 days being traffic in your lifetime, OR municipalities with 300 hours spent waiting at taxi ranks per day

People in South African cities spend on average 100 hours per year stuck in traffic,—more than 20% of extra travel time is spent being traffic. That could be about 200 days if our average life expectancy is 61 and we are exposed to traffic at age 20. We are well within the forecasts which motivated public transport interventions like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), the Gautrain and even “eTolls” for Gauteng and Western Cape Provinces. 

In one study where we counted wating times for over 20 000 passengers, and 2100 minibus taxi vehicle departures in two municipalities, we found that if we combined minibus taxi passengers’ waiting times at the taxi ranks for each day, they are waiting for 300 hours per day. Imagine what that means for these small municipalities’ social and economic gains! 

Whether it is traffic congestion or queues at for passenger transport, managing travel demand could provide more than better public transport, but more time. As more flexible work hours are likely for some, the post-COVID commute is a great opportunity to start improving mobility and access for all. 

Managing travel demand is the key

The Global Environment Fund’s core project report about how public transportation will be transformed in South Africa described a diverse series of “improvement measures”. The estimated emissions reductions were to the tune of 423 000 tons of Carbon Dioxide over a ten year period—BRT was only one part of the programme. 

And theoretically speaking, dedicated busways tend to offer equal returns to road pricing or what we call “e-tolls” here in South Africa. However, consumer surplus, or social gains, are nuanced to a relatively high toll fee, for high car ownership, and a relatively high share of bus use, about 33% of the market—that is more than double the current bus modal share in SA. This is again nuanced by the income inequality, congestion policies and proactive interventions. 

For instance, BRT projects have the capacity to attract significant investment in real estate development, but a precondition for this to happen is the introduction of zoning and incentives to complement the corridors. Most leading guidelines for practitioners around BRTs emphasise the importance of making appropriate estimations of ridership, for suitable route design to justify the investment decisions—plus they have separate discussions about Transit Oriented Development. That is: how land development takes place around transportation facilities, along routes and in nearby streets. 

Most importantly, transport interventions are part of an ecosystem aimed at managing travel demand. 

Limpopo’s Mopani District Municipality has an in depth 2010 Travel Demand Management study which focused on an improved Operating Licence Strategy for minibus taxis, a non-motorised transport network investment, parking management and congestion management through traffic signal optimisation. 

Transport for Cape Town took a strategy more focused on managing private car travel demand in 2017, in that it leans on changing individual travel behaviour. The measures include flexible working hours in order to change trip timing and thus shift or spread the peak hour to reduce either congestion or induce public transport use through appropriate fare structures. Then it offers a discussion around how mode choices would be structured across non-motorised transport and reduced car use (i.e. park and ride); and changes in routes including road pricing and TOD initiatives. 

What we know from the literature is that for travel behaviour to change, the combined effect of individuals volunteering to change, regulations enforced in favour of change, financial incentives and financial charging (last resort) are key. Gauteng has come a long way since the early 2000’s reflections on ‘modal integration strategies’ to streamlining and sustaining bus, rail and minibus taxi projects. However, these efforts have a few nuances, which were mentioned in the World Cup bids, but have seldom truly made the headlines. 

Institutional capacity and the devolution of functions

A common thread in all the major public passenger transport projects in South Africa is that they lean heavily on partnerships, and institutionalising these partnerships. 

Bus Rapid Transit Projects, for example were catalytic in terms of offering an institutional change in the minibus taxi industry by incorporating owners, owner-operators and drivers into the system. However, they were not catalytic to the extent that they are financially viable as direct costs were inherently high due to infrastructure, fare collection and universal accessibility—in addition to the spatial configuration of South African cities. A big risk is the financial collapse of BRTs, stabilising participation of the minibus taxi industry in commercial and operational ways, and not managing travel demand.

Redressing these require a different type of municipal capacity, one with institutional powers to manage and coordinate transport services and finances alike. Which is why the National Land Transport Bill was recently sent back to Parliament for deliberation. Spheres of government have been at logger-heads around transport functions, in particular. The Western Cape Government is seeking to absorb the capacity to finance, manage and coordinate rail infrastructure and operations. 

Whereas in Gauteng the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) represents a key institutional partnership between public and private sector within the context of rail infrastructure and operational development—away from the State-Owned Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s monopoly. The GMA will also begin supporting the Gauteng Province’s capacity to coordinate and manage selected intermodal facilities, starting with the Vereeniging Intermodal Facility. Many taxi associations all over the country have been dissatisfied with the quality of the facilities provided by municipalities. 

When the province undertook to identify the core issues which cause, motivate and contribute to violence in the minibus taxi industry—one of the biggest cluster institutions in the province—it found issues that resonated with much of the country. Even so, violence persisted in the Western Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Gauteng and even in the North West. 

Interestingly, I recently described that curbing taxi violence involves the combined effect of priority treatment at intersections, economic regulation of the market and creating safe places can make a significant difference. 

All of these enhance the importance of supporting institutional infrastructure such as the eThekwini Transport Authority, Transport for Cape Town, and Gauteng Transport Authority. 

However, all municipalities need equivalent capacity to interface with their local travel demand and supply issues. The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) has argued in favour of this for quite some time now. 

The case here in Africa, generally, is that institutional capacity drives transformation—this is where partnerships are formed, decisions are taken and services are delivered. 

For context sensitive, efficient and effective transport systems, transport authorities and municipalities in general will need to approach ‘transport’ as a basket of interventions—not just for minibus taxis, buses or railways: but for “Managing Travel Demand” in principle. 

Thank you for reading.

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