South Africa has one of the largest road networks in the world, but with a relatively low number of vehicles actually using it, the financial burden to keep it maintained will ultimately fall on the motorists that do – and all taxpayers in the long-run.
As at 30 September 2017, there were 12.1 million vehicles registered on eNaTIS, all of which must be licensed annually, regardless of whether they are used on public roads or not.
This equates to an increase of 211,816 vehicles year-on-year – in line with a steady 4% growth trend seen over the past few years – and it means that there are now 191 vehicles per 1,000 members of the population.
This is according to Stephan Krygsman, professor of Logistics and Transport Economics at the University of Stellenbosch, who spoke to BusinessTech following the launch of his new report on the state of South Africa’s road system.
The report found that South Africa boasts the world’s 1oth longest road network and 18th longest paved road network – equating to an estimated value of between R1.2 trillion and R2 trillion.
However, since 1998, the portion of the national road network that was older than its original 20-year design life has grown from 36% to 78% in 2008 – primarily due to an estimated road maintenance backlog of R197 billion.
The condition of the South African road network further varies between transport authority and type of road. Although the condition of the paved network is slowly deteriorating across the country, Sanral is faring exceptionally well maintaining over 60% of its roads in good to very good condition, Krygsman said.
Overall, 30% of the road network was in ‘poor’ to ‘very poor’ condition in 2008, 30% was in ‘fair’ condition, and 40% in ‘good’ to ‘very good’ condition.
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Paying for it
According to the report, the collection of funds for the transport sector – which includes the funding of the road network – spans all three spheres of government and at least six road transport and associated state-owned entities.
This primarily includes road user fees, vehicle levies and vehicle purchase taxes, such as the fuel levy and annual registration fees.
“Our road network is the 10th biggest in the world, while our vehicle fleet is roughly the 85th largest in the world. So we have a very large network compared to other countries, but an average to smallish vehicle population. So we are not even close to capacity,” said Krygsman.
While these wide open roads may seem to be non-existent in your morning traffic, this disparity is actually costing motorists, Krygsman said.
“The extensive road network is only serviced by a relatively small vehicle population, which will have an implication on the user’s cost responsibility,” he said
“This mismatch between network size, representing the supply, and number of vehicles, representing the demand, implies that the funding requirement and resulting allocation to roads (upgrading, maintenance or expansion) will be proportionally more when compared to countries with a more even balance of road users and road network.
“In short, if the network is bigger, the fleet or road user group should also be bigger,” said Krygsman.
Road users will either be paying proportionally more (if there are fewer road users) for the network or proportionally less (if there are more road users), he said.
The issues of the country’s road systems are further highlighted by the increasing traffic seen in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
This is because, while South Africa’s road agencies have invested a lot of money into the country’s roads, they may have done so in the wrong places (i.e. rural and not urban), said Krygsman.
“Public transport is not a viable option for car owners – you simply cannot use public transport to get to work. Poor people live on the periphery with rich folk living even further away due to poor spatial and apartheid planning policies. This requires long travel distances with private cars resulting in congestion,” he said.
To address this continued traffic, some form of congestion tax is likely needed, as there is no technical solution to the problem, said Krygsman
“We cannot build ourselves out of congestion,” he said. “The more capacity you provide, the more car travel you stimulate. So in the end you sit with more congestion. A congestion tax can be used to fund public transport in cities and motivate people to use more appropriate transport modes.”
Cape Town and Johannesburg’s traffic is not unique – even if people like to think so, Krygsman said.
“What does make us somewhat unique is the spatial footprint of our cities and the planning of townships (with no employment) on the outskirts of the town and the lack of public transport options.”