A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the various Gauteng regional government bodies responsible for transport will be signed at the end of October, which will begin the process of bringing roads, freight and public transport planning for the province under one body for the first time. The event will mark the end of South Africa’s ‘transport month’.

The MoU will form a new body that will aim to take control of the transport network and fulfil the remit of the 25-year Integrated Transport Master Plan (ITMP25). That planning document was put together by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for Gauteng Department of Roads last year. The key to ITMP25’s success lies in moving from “‘weak institutional arrangement’ reliant on strong inter-governmental cooperation to ‘strong’ (legislated) institutional arrangement reliant on legislative compliance”. The MoU signed this month will be the first part of a process of moving from the former to the latter.

The proposed rail 'super corridor' which would become part of a properly integrated network.
The proposed rail ‘super corridor’ which would become part of a properly integrated network.

CEO of the Gautrain Management Agency, Jack van der Merwe, told attendees at a Vodacom conference on machine to machine (M2M) communications about the MoU yesterday. Van der Merwe said that the new body will look to streamline decision making and focus on rapid improvements to the public transport network, developing bus and taxi lanes, Gautrain routes and other bus networks.

“The focus has to be on public transport corridors,” van der Merwe said, “And improving places where people are changing modes is a priority. How easy is it to move from bus to train?”

An integrated ticketing system for multiple modes of transport is part of the ITMP25, as is “a Provincial Data Warehouse for receiving fare collection data from the compliant operator’s fare collection systems, thereby facilitating Travel Information Integration.”

A new rail ‘super corridor’ extending from Soweto to Pretoria will be the priority, says van der Merwe, as well as ensuring new developments don’t feed urban sprawl. One of the big issues, he explained, is that new housing built in the 21st century was still being put down under apartheid-era planning decisions – which pushed people into exactly the wrong places for the sustainable development of a city. The price of not changing behaviours will be to double the number of cars on the road by 2037 and see average peak time speeds drop to 10kmh.

“The only thing Africa is not doing that the rest of the world does,” van der Merwe said, “Is that overseas they expand the infrastructure as people arrive. [With high levels of immigration into the area] the new direction is to run Gauteng as a city.”

Unlike almost every city in developed countries, the percentage of commuters who travel by private car or taxi rather than mass transit in Gauteng is rising, from just over 50% ten years ago to 84% today. By comparison, 57% of people travel in London commute using public transport.

Currently, the municipalities within Gauteng – Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Sedibeng and the West Rand – are responsible for transport in their own areas, while the Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport looks after the rest. This often leads to slow decision making and confusion – as with the current plans to extend the K60 in northern Johannesburg, which is opposed by the city but lies within Gauteng’s auspices.

According to the ITMP25: “Reliable and up to date information on travel patterns and trends, user preferences and actual passenger volumes (ie. satisfied demand) is essential as a basis for effective public transport planning at strategic, tactical and operational levels. However, such information is not available at or in a “centralised” data base or format and is dispersed across various planning authorities and entities. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, in order to assist with more efficient planning processes.”

This is classic linked data/smart cities discussion – about the improvements made possible by gathering relevant information from networked devices and analysing it in realtime. As well as being able to analyse routes and react to congestion or increased passenger numbers quickly, the body will also look at things like networked traffic lights that can react to traffic flow and help prevent gridlock.

Population growth in Gauteng as predicted by ITMP25
Population growth in Gauteng as predicted by ITMP25

Oh Gauteng, what a pretty mess you are and many people love your chaos. But you have to face the truth – you can’t go on as you are. As much as South Africans are wedded to their cars, the population of the region is predicted to equal that of Shanghai (18 million people) by 2037, with as many commuters as there are people in the Greater London area (8.5 million). There’s simply not enough roads that can be built to carry that number of people in private cars, especially as the average commute in Tshwane is already over 45km.

Other urban areas areas in South Africa are already showing how public transport and technology can make everyone’s lives easier and get cars off the road.

Van der Merwe pointed out that around 40 people die every day on South African roads, most of whom are pedestrians. A unified authority would focus on getting people out of cars, but would prioritise making ‘non-motorised transport’ – walking and cycling – safer and more convenient. He also says that money shouldn’t be an issue.

“The president has said he wants to spend a R1bn a day on infrastructure,” van der Merwe says, “There’s lots of money in the system.”