The state of South Africa’s public transport system

All across South Africa, cities are planning and investing in transport infrastructure as a catalyst to enable and promote urban regeneration and development. But the roadmap to achieving this aim has been less clear and often is challenging.

In a post -1994 South Africa, cities and various role players are faced with the mounting challenge of using transport systems to overcome the barriers of the apartheid spatial legacy, reconnecting isolated nodes and communities long disconnected from opportunity. In the process, they need to enable urban regeneration which will sustain the ongoing growth and development of the cities.

These challenges are further compounded by the increasing rates of urbanisation being experienced locally and globally. By 2040, more than 50% of people on the African continent will live in cities, placing increasing pressure and demand on the resources that governments have to invest in transport. Systems and infrastructure must therefore be designed more smartly, in full awareness of these challenges and the ever-changing context that cities will need to operate in.

“If regeneration is about stimulating activity (whether social or economic), then transport is an enabler for regeneration in the obvious sense that it creates connections by overcoming distance. Connections are what the city is all about,” says Rory Williams, transport planner at engineering firm ARUP.

For this regeneration to be considered sustainable, it will require a long-term approach in the design and thinking of the system, as well as on-going monitoring to ensure it continues to serve the needs of the city and its citizens into the future.

The investment in public transport however, continues to lag behind urban development, in particular, those projects driven by the private sector. Rather than enabling urban development, South African case studies suggest that new transport infrastructure is often a response to new urban developments, implying that cities have been unable to anticipate where growth will occur next. Examples like the V&A Waterfront and Century City in Cape Town are major urban developments which never appeared on any city development or spatial plans, but which, until recently, were without any form of suitable public transport infrastructure.

A review of the most recent developments in some of South Africa’s cities sheds light on the major transport investments expected in the coming decade, and how the challenge of transport-led urban regeneration will be approached. The full article discusses the solutions derived at or proposed for cities such as Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Rustenburg and Tshwane, where the integrated planning solutions include among others Bus Rapid Transport systems; the Gautrain; commuter rail systems; the upgrading of existing services; the provision for taxis and considerations such as encouraging walking and safe cycling routes.

Enabling urban development, and in particular, sustainable urban regeneration, is not without its challenges. The transport revolution across South Africa’s cities in the coming decades will bring increased challenges, but also increased opportunities as cities embrace and invest in transport – both motorised and non-motorised – as a way to renew and regenerate. 

Source: Earthworks .com

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