Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has outlined a number of initiatives which are currently being worked on by his department, including a plan to scrap over 63,000 taxis and finalise the issue of e-tolls.
Speaking in the debate on the State of the Nation Address in parliament on Wednesday (18 February), Mbalula said that his department is also prioritising a ‘road to rail shift’.
“In giving traction to the road to rail shift, we are putting in place long-term interventions that will introduce rail-reform, thereby making rail more effective, efficient, and competitive both in respect of freight and passenger transport.”
Mbalula said this includes a rail policy and legislation which will support and facilitate investment in rail infrastructure, rail modernisation and technology, safety and economic regulation, and facilitate the participation of the private sector in rail.
“In the short to medium term, we will review and extend the dangerous goods list that identifies goods that should not be on road, for safety reasons. Similarly, high cubed heavy trucks will no longer get exemptions to be on the road, considering the impact and the damage they do to our roads.”
Mbalula also confirmed that his department is working towards a final answer on e-tolls.
“We are equally enjoined to finalise the funding and tariff structure on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) by the end of this financial year,” he said.
E-tolls have met with resistance from road users since inception in 2013, leading to non-payment by many, and calls to scrap the system altogether.
In October 2020, Mbalula said that his department is being impeded from rolling out new road infrastructure projects because of a lack of resolution around e-tolls.
The minister said that president Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet is set to finalise a new funding model for the project after receiving proposals from his department.
Mbalula admitted that he thought the issue would have been resolved by now, but that the process has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Taxis and buses
Mbalula said his department is also working on the implementation of a re-imagined taxi recapitalisation programme
This will include increased local content of the vehicles in line with the South African automotive industry master plan which among other things seeks to increase local content to 60%, he said.
“It is through this re-imagined TRP programme that we will deliver the targets of scrapping 63,000 taxis by 2024 and implement a new public transport funding model that includes the taxi industry from the next financial year.”
This new public transport model will also include a focus on buses, Mbalula said.
“The expansion of the integrated public transport networks in 10 cities will be expedited within the context of the revised technical norms and standards for the bus rapid transit (BRT) system.
“National Treasury and the Department of Transport, through the Cities Support Programme, is working closely with cities to improve implementation capacity.”
While not mentioned directly by Mbalula during his address, the transport minister has confirmed that his department plans to introduce major new driving rules for the country by June this year.
In a media briefing at the end of January, Mbalula said that the National Road Traffic Amendment Act will effectively introduce the total prohibition on the use and consumption of alcohol by all motor vehicle operators on South African public roads.
Under the new rules the concentration of alcohol in any blood specimen must be 0.00 gram per 100 millilitres.
“When you drive your car and get in your vehicle you will need to be 100% sober,” he said.
The National Road Traffic Act (NRA) currently enables those who have consumed alcohol to get behind the wheel provided they are under the blood alcohol limit.
For normal drivers, the concentration of alcohol in any blood specimen must be less than 0.05 gram per 100 millilitres, and in the case of a professional driver, less than 0.02 gram per 100 millilitres.
Mbalula also confirmed that the government will roll out the new driving demerit system in 2021. This is aimed at punishing repeat offenders, he said.
“(Under this system) when you commit a number of offences you risk losing your driving licence. It happens in Europe and everywhere else.
“This is the year in which we are tightening the screws on offenders and those on the other side of the law. This is the year which we will see this in action.”
Mbalula recognised that the system has opponents, but said that the bill has already been signed into law by president Cyril Ramaphosa.
“We will implement it by June this year,” he said.