Big changes coming for public transport in South Africa – including upgraded taxis and a national ticketing system

 ·25 Oct 2022

The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure has laid out its plan to reform and restructure public transport in South Africa – but has stressed that the government needs to do the proper public consultations to avoid another e-toll fiasco.

The department published the phase 2 documentation of its National Infrastructure Plan 2050 this past week, detailing the path that government will follow in realising its major infrastructure projects over the next 30 years.

The plan focuses on land passenger transport modes in the country involving the majority of people – specifically trains, buses and minibus taxis – in both rural and urban centres across short and long-distance travel.

Between 2003 and 2020, the department noted that the government’s transport plans had largely missed the mark. Significant expenditure was directed to commuter rail through Prasa, as well as developing the Gautrain and rapid bus transport systems.

However, at the same time, reliance on these systems decreased, and low-capacity modes of transport like private vehicles and taxis grew, leading to greater traffic congestion.

“Minibus taxis now account for 80% of public transport trips,” the department said. “The number of households who use taxis increased from 9.8 million in 2013 to 11.4 million in 2020.”

While some initiatives were successful – like the Rea Vaya and MyCiTi bus services – the government’s transport plans were largely scuppered through corruption at Prasa, which gutted passenger rail in the country, and a general lack of integration between modes of transport.

The sector also suffered from poor policies, poor regulation and poor management, the department said and fell behind private market entrants and e-hailing services, which adapted faster to passenger needs.

New plans

Looking ahead to 2050, the department envisages a different kind of transport landscape for the country, with a greater focus on integrated transport systems, a revitalised rail sector and the adoption of new technologies like electric vehicles and green hydrogen.

For the next phase of its transport plans, the department said that modes of transport need to be aligned with passenger needs.

Transport systems will need to be upgraded and integrated with emerging technologies, including electric vehicle fleets. Minibus taxis need to be part of this upgrade process, it said.

Regarding minibus taxis, the government will proceed with formalising the industry and integrating it into the public transport system, the department said, and clarity must be provided on what state support will be given to the sector.

The private sector will also have a role to play, it said, with participation in passenger rail and other operating contracts. However, the department stressed that lessons need to be learned from the Gautrain and Gauteng e-tolling project in this regard.

“There must be policy clarity about the role of user charges in financing transport infrastructure to reduce risk to all parties involved,” it said.

Main goals include:

  • Linking transport and housing policies – for example, making sure rail investments align with low-income housing developments and peripheral areas.
  • Transport subsidies focus on the right modes of transport, such as minibus taxis, linked to measurable efficiency targets.
  • The minibus taxi industry will be transformed and formalised.
  • Private-sector funding and participation in the transport sector will be stimulated.
  • Cities will accelerate dedicated road space for public transport to stabilise travel times.
  • Rail networks will be reinvigorated, with priority given to Gauteng (including the Gautrain), Cape Town and eThekwini – with other areas following.
  • Rural areas will get a minimum daily frequency of bus or minibus taxi services on selected routes.
  • Green hydrogen and other alternative energy sources will be promoted, and local manufacturing of these vehicles will form part of the policy direction.

Key to many of these strategies is devolving passenger transport planning, implementation and management to municipal level or to some regional entity, the department said. The plans are also underpinned by big data and information from the mobility industry.

“A suitable entity will be identified and entrusted with the responsibility for the collection, analysing and curating data on transport infrastructure to provide a high-level or strategic view of the state infrastructure and to identify problems timeously,” the department said.

Over the next three years, the department has set several targets.

An action plan for the minibus taxi sector is expected to be completed by 2023/24, and new all-day services will be extended and/or opened in all 13 metros in the country using a variety of modes by 2024/25, it said.

The department said that a new prototype national integrated electronic ticketing system will be piloted in one city in 2024 and 2025 and later expanded to cover all public transport systems nationwide.

In the more immediate term, a model for policing and protecting railway assets is expected by March 2023, to be implemented in April, while a revised public transport subsidy is expected to be finalised by June 2023.

The Gautrain will also have a new operation contract in place by 2024 for services after 2026, it said, with expansion plans coordinated with a national rail mater plan.

Read: Big changes planned for municipal electricity in South Africa

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