This info-graphic; Cape Town’s Transport Picture 2015, from TCT (Transport for Cape Town) does everything a good info-graphic should, not least putting across pertinent information quickly and clearly. Let’s take a more careful look.
The untrained eye may notice the Private Transport figure (48%) and deduce that the remainder (52%) use Public Transport, demonstrating that a near healthy balance has been struck between the two.
Alas, of the 52% who rely on Public Transport, 21% walk!
More alarmingly, of the 48% who travel by car, nearly 80% of those vehicles only have one person in them.
With an ever increasing urban population, an urgent problem in the form of road congestion is only going to get worse, which is not quite the picture this info-graphic would like to paint.
Part of the problem is that we have all grown used to it. We set off earlier in the morning (05:30) or later in the day (09:30) to avoid the rush hour (!) while our health, specifically our blood pressure and levels of depression are proven to be heading in the wrong direction.
Then we do the same at the end of the day. And then the next day and so on.
We encounter rage and fatalities on the roads on a daily basis and have resigned ourselves to accept that this is just the way it is.
Now, let your imagination go wild or “blue sky” and consider the options. We could use London for inspiration which has world class transport infrastructure. Mind you, London and blue sky rarely go together in the same sentence.
In London, 11% of journeys are made by Underground which has taken more than 150 years to construct. Alas, the finance required to invest in a metropolitan Underground system is unthinkable and the geography of Cape Town doesn’t lend itself to one either. So that’s not an option.
Unfortunately the finance and geography constraints also apply to the over ground rail system. We can replace out of date carriages and spruce up the stations as the budget allows, but this will not result in an increase in capacity. We need more train sets or more railway lines for this and regardless the percentage who travel by Rail is about the same as it is in London.
How about busses. Over the last 3 years London has ordered 800 new Routemaster busses at R7m per bus, afterall 21% travel by Bus. Perhaps Cape Town could source one locally for R5m per bus and we might only need 100 or so. But armed with a budget of a half billion Rands, we then would need a non-congested road system to operate them on.
The MyCiti bus system attempts to solve this problem by running busses in dedicated lanes. To all intents and purposes it works. But, eventually we run into the same challenges as the rail system, where it becomes more difficult to fit dedicated bus lanes to an existing urban road network to allow the busses to move freely without congestion.
Despite their informal history, Minibus Taxis are the most popular form of public transport. Their importance is readily acknowledged and yet reorganisation and recapitalisation have been on the cards for a very long time. These initiatives might one day improve reliability, safety and capacity. Alas, nothing seems likely to happen soon.
Which leaves one obvious resource untapped, specifically the empty seats in all those private vehicles.
The benefits of ride share and carpooling are documented all over the Web and published in detailed research from all over the world. Cape Town now has a number of home grown, world class technological solutions that overcome many of the barriers to ride share; accessibility, quality of ride share match, flexibility, safety and not least the settlement of shared costs.
We need to change our perception and behaviour in relation to private vehicles and re-learn how to share.
The will of Government and the desire of Corporates might also align and further encourage us to do so.
There is a well worn saying, we could paraphrase here, which goes something like “for evil to triumph, all good people have to do is nothing”.
Now think of our health and the environment because if we all do nothing, then something terrible is going to happen to both.
Carpooling is an opportunity for each and everyone of us to do something that will genuinely make a difference. We will also save money by doing so.
Given more time and the hypothecation of road taxes (the ring-fencing of licence fees, fuel levies, road tolls and congestion charges) it may be possible to invest significantly in public transport and move the majority of commuters away from private car use.
In the meantime there is still another solution.