The future of urban mobility in South Africa discussed by transport executives

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A few of South Africa’s transport industry experts came together to discuss the future of urban mobility for South Africa.

They agreed that to meet the transport needs of the fast-growing population in the country, we need push full steam ahead and plan for it or we could be in hot water.

To commemorate Transport Month, GIBB, a leading South African engineering consulting company, hosted a roundtable discussion on the future of the transport sector.

The participating panellists included William Dachs, Gauteng Management Agency (GMA) Chief Operating Officer, Fana Marutla, GIBB Business Development Manager for Northern Region and Dr Willem Sprong, GIBB Technical Executive for the Railway Engineering sector.

Planning must start now

Dachs spoke on Gautrain’s planned railway extensions as a solution to address future urban mobility.

Dachs explains that the GMA assisted in preparing Gauteng’s 25 year Integrated Transport Development Master Plan. Subsequently, a team from GMA drew up a report around spatial land use, which indicated where transport would be required. The report gave a 25-year view around land use and considered rail, road and air transport.

“The conclusion was that rail must be the back bone of public transport. One reason for this is population growth. According to Stats SA, the Gauteng population will grow by 48% by 2037. We then had to figure out where these people would live and work and how they would get to work. We needed to find solutions and make plans to action them,” he says.

The second factor is growth in the employment sector.

“Formal jobs are estimated to increase and is great news, but we needed to know how we were going to move these people from home to work,” Dachs says.

He adds that the western part of Johannesburg was identified as a prime business development area and that the rail network needed to run through this area. Sites for train stations were also strategically mapped out. These are called new transport development nodes.

“The rationale is that new train stations will attract businesses and people to develop around it. This will result in people planning their lives around transport. Gautrain is looking at adding an additional 150km to its rail network,” he says. He adds that we must invest in roads and that PRASA must be recapitalised because they continue to move a lot of people.

“If we do not make significant changes as a society in the way we do our work, we are going to be in trouble. Traffic congestion and negative economic and environmental impacts will not bode well for the province.”

He stressed the need to integrate with other transport systems to take people to and from stations.

Trucks must go to save our roads 

“To prolong the lifespan of our roads we must remove trucks from the roads and move towards using railway as a means of transport,” says Marutla.

Marutla says that we should be proud of the South African railway network. “Did you know that the longest train in the world is in South Africa. It is 3.7km long?” he says.

He explains why trains are favoured over trucks.

“If one wagon carries 60 tonnes of freight, a 100-wagon train carries 6000 tonnes. The capacity of a truck is between 30 to 50 tonnes. Using this as a benchmark, one 100-wagon train is equivalent to 120 trucks. If we remove freight trucks and put them into rails, congestion on our roads will be reduced significantly. Trucks are efficient to carry loads up to 250km. If you exceed that, rail is more economical,” Marutla says. 

By doing this, railway companies will generate more income and have more money for maintenance on the railways.

He explains that freeways are designed to last 30 years, if regular maintenance is done, but the weight of trucks will reduce their lifespan.

Sprong spoke on railway safety and infrastructure risk management. He says that in South Africa, we are conditioned to thinking that accidents mean the railway lines are unsafe and that the absence of accidents means the railways are safe. However, he suggests a third scenario where there are no accidents but the railways are still unsafe.

“We need to look at a sustained risk management system if we are to have a secure railway system in the future,” he says.

Sprong believes that we cannot improve safety in railway by recapitalising the system only.

“You can buy 100 new trains, but if you do not have risk management programmes that you can monitor yourself and constantly change, the trains will become faulty and one will need to reduce capacity to accommodate those faults. We need to spend more effort and money on maintenance and repairing what we already have,” says Sprong.

He remains excited about the advances in transport technology and insists that we are not far off from having flying drone trains and taxis.

“The technology has been developed, we just need to bring it to South Africa,” he says.

But Sprong believes that trains will never be phased out because they remain the most efficient and effective way to transport masses of people. Even new technology, he says, will never be able to transport the same number of people.

Fana Marutla, GIBB Business Development Manager for Northern Region

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Bontle Moeng is the Founder and Managing Director of BizNis Africa. Moeng has spent 16 years working in the digital and online media industry across Africa. She applied her trade at True Love magazine prior to discovering her passion for Investment news in key sectors across Africa. Moeng previously worked for ITWeb, Starfish Mobile Technologies, ITNewsAfrica, AVATAR Agency, eNitiate, Global Interface Consulting and Havas Johannesburg. Her primary focus is to provide solid and valuable content on investment opportunities for the ICT, Energy and Mining sectors across Africa. In addition, the online news publication assists global companies to expand their presence in Africa. Email: news@biznisafrica.co.za

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