Tim Modise

Prioritise public transport

2006-10-19 09:05

Tim Modise

There are several anomalies that have been brought about by the economic growth achievements of our society that pose interesting challenges.

Some of these were brought to the fore in a conversation I had with a group of visiting American journalists.

As to be expected the escalating crime, especially the high profile violent cash-in-transit robberies, became an issue for discussion. Understandably so.

Then I also pointed out a very interesting development in the construction sector. A story hidden somewhere in newspapers and highlighted elsewhere on talk shows by property developers says that the three major producers of cement cannot keep up with demand and are now importing up to 50 per cent of cement requirements in the country.

What does this tell us? That not withstanding the negativity that is being driven by the justifiable fear of crime, there is a practical positive sentiment growing with more and more people than ever before investing in their own property ownership to the extent that producers of cement and property developers alike cannot cope.

But it is the anomalies in the transport sector that I want to focus on. Interestingly, these were highlighted by the Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel in his briefing to parliament on Tuesday.

He pointed out that a person on a weekday morning two-hour flying trip from Cape Town, was more likely to arrive in Johannesburg earlier than someone driving from Pretoria, a mere fifty kilometres away.

Can the municipalities keep up?

He mentioned this to highlight the growing problems of inadequate investment in public transport systems by the public sector. But can local municipalities keep up?

Here is another interesting fact brought up by Minister Manuel. Motor vehicle ownership has grown exponentially over the past five years that if you laid private cars in Gauteng end to end on the 7 538km road network you would barely manage to squeeze in the 2.9 million vehicles in the province.

Just to give a sense of the magnitude of the problem in especially Gauteng, for every kilometre of a public road, you have 384 vehicles compared to the closest rival, the Western Cape province with only 31 cars!

On one hand we have hailed the growth of the motor manufacturing sector which has created a sizable number of new jobs but on the other hand we have created a new problem that the public sector will seriously battle to bring under control given the challenges.

Besides the public sector having to build new roads, there are also problems of roads getting worn out and not being repaired on time or sufficiently, as evidenced by the outcry from even the Chairperson of the Human rights Commission Jody Kollapen and other residents of Laudium about the R55 road in Gauteng.

'Transport issues must be addressed'

These developments show that whilst we apply pressure on the authorities to deal with obvious and immediate problems like crime, we should also emphasise that the provision of adequate public transport system and infrastructure be treated as a matter of high priority.

I spoke to Dr Thabo Rangaka, who chairs the national professional body of psychiatrists, and he reckons that millions of commuters are in poor health due to the stresses caused by the pressures associated with unsafe and unreliable public transport system.

Given the growth of the country's economy, and the growing number of the commuters and private vehicle ownership, public transport has to be made one of the top priorities in this country.

We need a revolutionary approach to public transport provision. In order to catch up with the backlog and service roads more adequately, I predict that within a few years, we are going to see more and more roads being privatised.

These are some of the instances where positive developments can sometimes produce negative outcomes. The story of South Africa today indeed!

  • Tim Modise is the chairperson of the Proudly South African Campaign and hosts a weekday show on Radio 702 and Cape Talk.

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