Government says traffic could soon become ‘intolerable’ in parts of South Africa – here’s the plan to fix it

 ·2 Jun 2022

The Department of Transport sees trains as key for urban travel in South Africa over the coming decades, with the country’s roads becoming increasingly congested.

This is according to the department’s recently published national rail policy which details the government’s future plans for the sector.

Notably, the department is focusing heavily on the reintroduction of urban rail networks in the country’s major cities. This form of urban specific rail has been dubbed urban guided transit (UGT) by the department and is a specific focus in Cape Town, eThekwini and parts of Gauteng.

To accommodate this shift to urban rail commuting, the department proposes a ‘devolution’ strategy that will see urban rail developments move from the competency of the national government to a provincial and municipal level.

Until this takes place, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) will manage operations and maintenance of urban rail systems, the department said. It added that the government currently relies heavily on Prasa to make substantial commitments to recapitalise the country’s commuter train fleet.

However, the department said that this process and investment and Prasa may be forcibly sped up in the coming years due to ‘intolerable road congestion’ in the country’s major metropolitan municipalities.

This could accelerate the shift to a municipal level at a much faster rate and requests by municipalities to take over infrastructure will be considered ‘sympathetically’, the department said.


More than five years ago, the department’s 2017 white paper on rail indicated that road congestion was already a serious problem in South Africa’s metropolitan areas, and that truck traffic on all road categories was ‘overbearing’.

The 2017 white paper said that urban rail in Cape Town, eThekwini and Gauteng would have to be ‘substantially, augmented or extended’ to alleviate existing road congestion and avert ultimate gridlock as their populations and car ownership increase exponentially, and to meet future capacity and catchment area requirements.

Data from analytics firm Inrix shows Cape Town remains the most congested city in the country, ranking 59th globally.

Johannesburg was second, and 48th globally, with a -36% drop in traffic compared to pre-Covid-19 data. Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha), Pretoria and Pietermaritzburg round out the top five.

The data showed that Capetonians can expect to lose 59 hours in traffic annually, far more than in Joburg (48 hours), and Port Elizabeth (41 hours).

Read: South Africa is looking at building new airports – with a ‘Gautrain’ connection in major cities

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