The EcoMobility Festival ends in a week and while we at htxt.africa have been keeping an eye on how much of a success it’s been – checking out the park-and-rides and crunching data – Sandton isn’t a daily destination for us. This means we haven’t been able to see how successful the EcoMobility Festival has had on easing congestion. Our guest writer, 702’s Sam Cowen, works in the heart of Sandton and has seen the impact on a daily basis. As she points out below, the Festival could have worked, if we’d all followed the rules. 

Earlier this year, when the ominous rumblings began about Sandton being locked down and inaccessible to private cars for a month – a whole month! – I was right in the forefront of those who panicked.

The rumours were terrifying. In a move reminiscent of any self-respecting zombie film, Sandton would ringfence itself. Only public transport, emergency vehicles and, of all things, cyclists would be allowed past the perimeter fence. There would be police with guns and walkie talkies preventing me from shopping in Sandton!

I thought it was a terrible idea. Public transport, bar taxis, seemed expensive at best and unreliable at worst. This, by the way, is from a person whose only regular experience of public transport is taking the Gautrain to the airport.

Some work colleagues cheerfully suggested I cycle to work. Yeah right, 8kms up a hill with all my clothes on my back, like a desert traveller except with no desert.

Okay, so nothing like a desert traveller, but you get my point.

But as the months went by and details emerged of how and why the EcoMobility Festival would work, I moved back from the front protesters and joined the maybe group closer to the back. There would be park and rides. Public transport lanes and routes would be beefed up and I would still be able to get my car into the CBD if I had to, which, working at 4am in the morning, I had to.

As it turned out, bar a few teething problems, the whole thing started off rather well; people left their cars at home or at central parking points and used more public transport. This public transport, incidentally, moved much faster because there were now dedicated lanes on most of the main routes, specifically for buses and taxis.

And this is where it then got messy.

Taxis are traditionally the most hated vehicles on the road in South Africa. Their drivers are renown for some pretty incredible feats that would seem impossible to a lesser vehicle or a less kamikaze-like driver.

It is no surprise to see taxis in an emergency lane. Why should they not be? Picking up and dropping off as many people as possible in the shortest space of time imaginable is certainly an emergency to some people although I think the average ambulance, fire engine or police car might disagree.

Taxis stop for no obvious reason, pull off again for no obvious reason and tend to see a speed limit as a recommended guideline rather than a point of law.

But love them or hate them, they are the biggest and most reliable method public transport in the city and I’ve learned to see them much like the sea, as a natural force that can be harnessed for the greater good of man, but ultimately a law unto themselves and must be respected as such.

However, now that they had a dedicated lane, which they only had to share with buses, they moved faster and more efficiently. They had no need to pull across three lanes of traffic, waving a conciliatory hand as they endangered lives left, right and centre. Taxi drivers were finally Obeying The Law. They could move so fast it was unnecessary to do anything else.

And then it all went wrong thanks to basic human nature.

There was a new lane that made getting from A to B faster. Why should we not all use it? We would get home faster. It’s with that rationale obviously firmly top of mind I watched large German car after large German car slip through the barrier poles and shoot up the (now) fast lane.

There would be no indication of such behavior about to occur. As in no indicators. At all. Ever. And it hasn’t stopped there.

Many of the public transport vehicles are waved through robots to keep the flow going through peak hour traffic. And guess who is following them through those robots?

Yes, for some Sandton residents, EcoMobility has worked out extremely well. They’re getting home faster than ever. The rest of us are just watching and mentally adding half an hour on to our journeys.

Ironically they are doing exactly what the taxis are doing. The taxis we hate because the drivers don’t indicate and they use the emergency lanes and treat red as the new orange when faced with a traffic light that’s not in their favour.

That’s our problem isn’t it? We can make all the excuses we like but taxis are crammed to bursting with people whose jobs depend on them getting to work on time. With a designated lane, a lot of those people not only got to work on time but also arrived safely. Furthermore, they might have arrived even faster had we all adhered to the rules.

Those are the same rules that make drinking and driving illegal but we fume when we’re held up in roadblocks at night being checked by police. EcoMobility ends in 10 days. Perhaps the lesson to learn from it is that if we want a more law-abiding taxi industry we need to learn to walk the walk ourselves. Or cycle it.