A new deal for public transport in South African cities : How to bring all sectors on board

This panel discussion took place at the main conference of the #cocreateDESIGN FESTIVAL-2018 in Cape Town on 23 February 2018. More information here.Panelists :

  • Yusry Frizlar, Director at Arcus GIBB
  • Gail Jennings, Independent Researcher specialising in Public Health, Urban Sustainability and Sustainable Mobility
  • Brett Herron, Mayoral Committee Member: Transport and Urban Development Authority
  • Rehana Moosajee, Founder and Owner at The Barefoot Facilitator

Moderated by : Sean Cooke, PhD candidate in Transport Studies, University of Cape Town

Listen here:

Yusry Frizlar kicked off the discussion by acknowledging the complexity of cities, which are made even more complex by the interlinking systems that are working within them. Any sub-system, like the transport system, cannot operate on its own. Because of the interactions between the different systems within a city, certain inputs do not necessarily lead to certain envisaged outcomes. Frizlar gave the example of the public transport action plan of 2007, which intended to deliver an Integrated Public Transport Network (IPTN) within a 1 km walking distance for 85% of the urban population by 2020 yet:

“In 2018, 11 years later, R 35 billion has been spent on infrastructure but less than 1% of the working population is using this grand transport plan”.

With only two years left before 2020, it is clear that this public transport action plan has failed to achieve the original aims it set out to achieve. Frizlar proposed two reasons for the failure to deliver on these aims:

  1. Technical capacity of cities to manage the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system and a lack of understanding of the different elements to enable the system to function; and
  2. Very strong resistance from private transport systems, for example, the minibus taxi industry.

Sean Cooke highlighted that the minibus taxi system is meeting the needs of an ever-growing urban population, undertaking more than 69% of daily trips, and yet they are unsubsidised. Thus, the question is how to integrate the currently financially unviable formal public transportation network with the very dynamic and resilient minibus taxi system. So far, there is limited understanding of the business model and the history of the minibus taxi system. There is also a lack of trust, which needs to be addressed before introducing an integrated multimodal system.

According to Rehana Moosajee, the crisis is that we are not looking at the fact that the one person-one car culture is unsustainable and that no city in the world can build its future on this unsustainable culture. Moosajee also stressed the need for people to deepen their understanding of what others are experiencing during their commutes in order to create a system that works for all.

The panel noted that one of the aspects that urgently needs to be addressed is the fragmentation of the public transport network. Currently, different transport modes are under the control of different spheres of government, with transport funding sitting across different spheres and across different agencies. According to Councillor Brett Herron, the public transport system needs to be in the hands of local government. Currently, low income families are spending, on average, almost half of their household income buying tickets for public transportation. Herron pointed out the potential opportunities of introducing a subsidy as it would allow a public transport service, such as the Golden Arrow Bus, to provide a service in areas where it is not financially viable from a fare collection perspective as a result of lower demand. The subsidy would, therefore, serve the purpose of providing access and mobility to households that are currently disconnected.

The panel also discussed another avenue that should be explored to encourage private companies to enhance the mobility options available to their employees, for example, through car sharing schemes or promoting cycling to work. Herron stated that, in recent months, businesses have increasingly been reaching out to him about the role they can play in supporting access and mobility in the city.

Gail Jennings noted that we tend to look at the mobility level in a city by factors such as the number of bus stops rather than the level of accessibility. A household might have access to a high-quality public bus system but the destinations of these busses are poor quality hospitals, schools, and workplaces. Again, we should focus on the user, considering why he or she is in the bus, and lay out public transport accordingly. Cape Town needs to re-address the fundamentals of what the transport system is aiming to achieve.

Century City My Citi bus Station

South African cities have tried to reinvent their transport systems multiple times in different ways but have not really succeeded. The existing transport offerings have a history and familiarity in communities. Rather than replacing existing mobility options, government should improve the current offering by providing these modes with more funding. Cape Town’s highway network should prioritise public transport with far more High Occupancy Vehicle lanes in order to encourage citizens to use public transport.

According to Jennings, congestion isn’t always a bad thing: congestion is demand outstripping supply. Building more roads increases supply, which increases the appeal of private cars thereby increasing demand and returning the system to congestion. Road congestion can be seen as evidence that roads for private vehicles are being prioritised over public transport. It is widely known that you cannot build your way out of congestion. However, the converse is also true. As public transport improves, people will leave their cars in favour of a public transport mode and road congestion decreases. One of the results is that, as congestion decreases, people will be attracted to using their private cars again. The only way to achieve increasing public transport usage and continuously improve public transport services is to maintain congestion at certain points on the road network. It was suggested by the panel that, as public transport improves and congestion decreases, road lanes should be transferred from ‘mixed traffic’ to ‘bus only’ to maintain the same congestion level on the road network. The improvement of the public transport network requires a restricting of the road network.

The following key ideas emerged during the panel discussion :

(1) Focus on the needs of the users of public transport

(2) Work to re-build and develop the current mobility options rather than starting with a new ‘modern’ scheme

(3) Congestion isn’t always a bad thing if it is used as a tool to encourage people to use public transport


This panel discussion took place at the main conference of the #cocreateDESIGN FESTIVAL-2018 in Cape Town on 23 February 2018. More information here.

  • Mark B

    there has been a poor attempt to introduce cycling into the mix in the past but no mention here. i suggest that cyclists should be rewarded by setting up a credit on public systems for the mileage they do within peak periods.