Massive transport plans on cards

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pretoria - A massive overhaul of South Africa's public transport system is set to be in the works in the next decade as expenditure on infrastructure is expected to double over the same period in line with the country's New Growth Path.

As this year's budget indicates, the Treasury wants the Transport Department to focus its spending over the next three years on maintaining roads, upgrading rail infrastructure, constructing municipal public transportation and subsiding public transport operations.

Government and state enterprises are expected to allocate funding estimated at R262 billion over the next three years to transport and logistics infrastructure. This includes Transnet's spending on pipelines, which accounts for 27 percent of the total public sector infrastructure budget over the period.

The Treasury's Budget Review also estimates an expenditure increase on public transport infrastructure from just over R41 billion this year to R48 billion in 2015, with the larger chunk of the money (over R20 billion) going to road transport.

South Africa's investment on infrastructure gained momentum in the years leading up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup and government wants to ensure that this growth is being supported by a well maintained road network and effective public transport system.

Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele is expected to give details of the projected transport infrastructure spending when he chairs the post-State of the Nation Address media briefing of the Infrastructure Development cluster tomorrow.

Improving the public transport network is among the priorities approved by Cabinet following the successes of the Bus Rapid Transit systems in Johannesburg and Cape Town, with other major metros such as Ethekwini and Nelson Mandela Bay set launch theirs soon.

The budget makes provisions for the development of integrated public transport networks in five cities by 2015 with plans to introduce reforms in the bus subsidy. Nelson Mandela Bay has said it has completed plans for its BRT project and had purchased a fleet of buses while Tshwane, Rustenburg and eThekwini are believed to be still finalising their plans.

The Treasury also attributes the projected massive growth in spending to the additional allocations of R893 million for the conditional grant made to provinces for disaster relief, R4 billion for rail rolling stock and R1 billion for the upgrade of signalling and the procurement of depot ahead of the arrival of the new passenger train fleet.

Officials say higher expenditure through the provincial roads maintenance grant is primarily responsible for an improvement in road conditions and is expected to decrease the length of secondary road network in poor condition to 5 1000 kilometres in the next three years. Provinces are expected to spend a projected R25.5 billion to maintain provincial and rural roads.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan's budget this year also shows an increase in operational and capital contributions to the South African National Roads Agency Limited to R4.1 billion, partly due to the R5.8 billion the Treasury had to allocate for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.

Meanwhile, the Transport Department says it has begun drafting a rail policy for the country, which it says will guide investment, improve regulation and lead to more reliable, safe and affordable freight and passenger services.

Regulations which aim to promote efficient pricing and network access will also be introduced this year through the establishment of a rail economic regulator. Government wants to replace the existing fleet over the next 20 years. A feasibility study to explore the project scope was done last year with the department committing to help Metrorail with the procurement of the new stock.

State-owned freight company Transnet plans to invest about R300 billion over the next seven years on freight rail network, upgrades and refurbishing of existing infrastructure.