Transport the pillar of SA's livelihood

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

By Communications Minister Faith Muthambi

Providing effective public transport systems is one of the most important interventions a government can make to support economic and social activities in a country. A good public transport system shapes urban and rural landscapes, encourages economic growth and development, and influences people’s decisions on where they would like to reside, their education and employment.

During Transport Month we are again reminded of the critical role transport plays in our society. This year we mark it under the theme: “Moving South Africa Forward”.

When launching Transport Month, Minister Dipuo Peters pointed out that it is also an opportune time to create greater awareness about road safety and other transport-related issues in the country. She stressed the fact that South Africans need to change their attitudes when using transport, whether it be travelling in their own cars or when making use of public transport.

Even though this should be an ever present reality, it takes on particular significance as we gradually approach the December holiday period. Road and traffic safety is everyone’s concern and should occupy our minds and actions when we commute, and travel around the country. It however relies heavily on the cooperation of all South Africans, while the law enforcement agencies have an important role to play to ensure that those who break the law are prosecuted.

However according to Minister Peters, Transport Month also gives government the opportunity to showcase our successes and expand further on the good story as our country moves forward.
Successive administrations since 1994 have sought to convert and modernise our public transport infrastructure. It has greatly evolved over the past 20 years from a tool under apartheid used to divide communities to one that brings South Africans together and connects them to educational, economic and recreational activities.

This massive change was made possible by numerous strategic investments to create an integrated rapid transport network. It was done with the knowledge that the transport sector plays an instrumental role in economic growth and social development.

Our efforts are paying off and we have made a significant difference in the lives of millions. This was confirmed by the Stats SA National Household Travel Survey 2013 which “found that barriers to mobility in the last ten years have been reduced”. Rural households, in particular, have now better access to public transport and travel time has been reduced significantly.

The survey also found that the percentage of households that uses trains has increased from 5.8 per cent in 2003 to 9.9 per cent in 2013. This was not by chance, but due to a substantial investment by government in the rail services. Over the past five years we have built, upgraded or refurbished more than 50 train stations and 2 600 coaches.  In the process, we have created approximately 2 000 direct and indirect jobs.

More work however remains as government has a vision to make rail the backbone of the country’s transport system. To accomplish this, Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) will over the next 10 years spend R51 billion on 600 new commuter trains (3 600 coaches) as part of its Fleet Renewal Programme.  The first 20 trains are being manufactured in Brazil, with the remainder to be built at the new industrial park in Dunnottar, Nigel. This project will create 8 000 direct jobs at the Dunnottar plant, while an additional 33 000 jobs will be created in the broader transport sector.

Another rail project which has grown from strength to strength is the Gautrain. Currently 55 000 commuters’ use it daily, most of whom had previously used their own vehicles to travel.

Along with commuter rail, government has also significantly invested in the country’s bus services. Over past the nine years 120 kilometres of dedicated lanes have been constructed. In addition, 58 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stations, over 350 bus stops and 4 depots have been built. Moreover, more than 1000 buses have also been procured in six cities. 

The BRT system in Cape Town now transports 53 000 passengers on a daily basis, while Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya carries 45 000. The latter is also currently implementing the next phase of its Rea Vaya project which will connect the city with Sandton and Alexandra.

Other cities which will soon benefit from BRT are Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan, construction in both cities is at an advanced stage. In addition, work on a BRT system in Ekurhuleni has started with an option to extend it to the bigger West Rand region. BRT systems are also planned for Mangaung, eThekwini, Polokwane, Nelspruit and George.

The provision of an effective, affordable, safe public transport is a priority to government. Although much has been achieved over the past twenty years, more work remains as we continue to roll out projects to provide an integrated, safe and reliable public transport service.

During this year’s Transport Month let all of us take heed of the call to make our roads safer and play an active part to move the country forward.


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