From disadvantaged transport to transport justice in South Africa
By Bongani Mthombeni-Möller,
Almost a quarter of South Africans spend up to 20% of their income on transport – and this was before speculation that the price of petrol could reach R40 per liter under the effect of soaring oil prices.
The “transport disadvantage” is only a legacy of apartheid land-use planning, which favored high-income populations and persists today. Residents of poor communities still have to travel long distances to get to work and school. Those who cannot afford to travel also lack access to essential goods and services, leading to poor health and education, high crime rates, poverty and social denigration.
However, when it comes to transport, South Africa places too much emphasis on big projects, such as the Gautrain, which again favors high-income people and has little appeal to township communities. .
We will only perpetuate the transportation disadvantage and widen the gap between haves and have-nots if we continue to focus on the big projects without addressing the fundamentals.
A new mobility narrative for South Africa
If we are to move from a state of ‘transport disadvantage’ to a state of ‘transport justice’, there needs to be a shift in thinking about how we address mobility challenges in African cities.
Globally, the narrative around mobility focuses on smart cities, electric and autonomous vehicles, and digital rail. But is it too early to discuss these issues in an African context where a significant portion of the population lacks easy and affordable access to major transport routes?
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Based on our century-old experience in South Africa, we believe these should be the strategic priority areas for the next 100 years:
Redefine the goal
To reduce poverty and unemployment, we must tackle transport exclusion head-on. Our goal should be to achieve a basic level of access for all, focusing on the displacement needs of local beneficiary communities. We should invest in making mobility cheaper, faster and safer for everyone, not just high-income populations.
Let’s take better care of what we have
It is cheaper to maintain infrastructure than to repair it, and it is cheaper to repair infrastructure than to replace it. With limited resources and a strained economy, South Africa should invest in its existing transport infrastructure, processes and systems, making them as future-proof as possible and incorporating sustainable mobility solutions that actively reduce the cost of transport.
Adopt the technology
Data should be our roadmap to the future of mobility, which we envision as fluid, automated and on-demand. However, there is a misperception that smart mobility technologies, such as building information modeling (BIM) and digital twins, are too advanced for Africa’s needs. We do not agree. The principles for applying smart technology to rural transport systems are the same as to urban systems. The only difference is the context.
Optimize and subsidize the minibus taxi industry
Almost 70% of South African households use minibus taxis to get around. Formalizing and supporting the industry through vehicle subsidies and tax breaks could unleash the full potential of the sector. To be successful, the grant will need to come with strings attached. Making access to the subsidy conditional on operating taxi services through a mobile app, for example, will result in better integration of taxi owners and drivers into the transport system.
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An app-based system would allow passengers to rate their drivers and their experiences – higher-rated drivers could get a higher subsidy. Taxi driver performance and location can also be tracked, and operators can use the data to forecast demand and manage vehicle supply to optimize fleets, routes and preventative maintenance.
Embrace MaaS for Mass Transit
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) platforms automatically calculate the fastest, safest and most efficient way to get you from A to B, using all available modes of transport. Smart mobility solutions such as Flowtack digitize the transportation network and collect data from road users and sensors. Authorities can use this data to predict and optimize traffic flows in real time to keep traffic moving and avoid congested cities.
To be effective, mass transit must serve as the foundation of an integrated system that includes shared, demand-driven, and active modes of travel. We can also improve the way people move from a safety, efficiency and sustainability perspective by accelerating the establishment of dedicated minibus taxi lanes and infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. .
Diverse partnerships and political support for transport are essential
Successful and sustainable mobility requires a collaborative and integrated approach to land use planning and solution development. To ensure an equitable distribution of transportation benefits, we must prioritize equity and inclusion in planning and decision-making.
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Public-private partnerships that prioritize stakeholder engagement and diversity of thinking and practice will ensure that we create solutions that are different, less costly, more context-specific and gender-responsive. Getting it right will require rapid experimentation, evolutionary learning and buy-in from all stakeholders. The key is to create actionable transportation plans and strategies that use cutting-edge technology.
An opportunity to improve society together through better transportation options
There is a renewed sense of urgency to tackle inequality in South Africa. Solving our transportation problems is the fastest way to – quite literally – provide a pathway out of poverty for millions of people. Smart mobility is only successful and efficient if it is inclusive. By changing perspectives and changing the narrative of mobility, together we can improve society. ESI
Republished with permission from Bongani Mthombeni-Möller, Director of Smart Mobility at Royal HaskoningDHV. If you’re looking for a partner to showcase solutions to your mobility challenges, including road, rail and maritime, connect with her on LinkedIn.