Efficient and extensive public transport key to economic freedom for all
My reaction to the Roads and Transport 2015/16 budget is disappointment at the lack of emphasis on public transport in Gauteng.
Efficient and extensive public transportation networks are key to unlocking economic freedom for all in Gauteng, yet this goal continues to remain elusive.
In many ways, the planning gridlock we are in is of our own making. MEC Ismail Vadi has admitted that we cannot adequately fund roads to build ourselves out of the transport problems we are experiencing.
In my view, we are looking in the wrong direction; officials and lawmakers alike surely have the task of making public transport work as easily and as well as possible.
We can, if we work intelligently, change the public transport systems which have either never functioned fully or limped along for years as dysfunctional agencies of government.
A few examples to illustrate the possibilities, Madam Speaker:
From interaction with bus companies benefitting from the operating subsidy, it is clear that the administration of the subsidy and the present contract system is not working and operators are under great pressure to maintain economically viable routes.
Only last week, PUTCO announced that it would cease serving Mamelodi and several other areas at the end of the month and no solution has been proposed.
Only now, and we welcome this, is the possibility of devolving the subsidy to municipal level being investigated.
Unfortunately, expectations are not high that the municipalities, given their own record of failed bus services, will fare any better. Nevertheless, the experiment is worth a try.
Another chronic source of public frustration is the state of testing and licencing centres; we have engaged the officials responsible for some of these centres and it appears that it is not always solely the fault of officials but that several of the systems being applied in the centres need urgent attention.
Why, for example, does eye testing have to be done in the DLTCs and not by approved optometrists; why is there not a crash programme of building centres, given that demand for these services has increased tenfold and their structures are outdated?
Only R 37 million is budgeted for the current and outer MTREF years for DLTC construction and a mere R 21 million for upgrading of facilities over the same period, while design takes a big chunk of the budget.
This is slowing down the ball; it is our direct responsibility to the public. Why do the driving schools appeal year after year to the province to review regulations which actively hamper their activities and expose them further to the endemic corruption amongst officials?
The state of public transport in our municipalities, in particular the Gauteng Metros, is very concerning; in at least two of them, bus services have been allowed to implode, and in Tshwane, the municipality is about to commit a major traffic planning error around the BRT system, which will have to be reversed at great cost.
Media reports indicate that Johannesburg is on the same course and I ask the MEC whether we can afford to sit with arms folded while these costly mistakes are being made.
I hear the arguments about autonomous spheres of government, but benign neglect is no excuse. Provinces are surely not without a voice when policy is made or changed.
The budget does not address a vital element of transport in the province; with three contiguous Metros and inseparable transport links, surely a Transport Authority is an absolute necessity and not a luxury.
Without coordination, we remain prisoners of systems which do not and cannot work. I appeal to MEC Vadi, who I believe is genuinely concerned and involved, to use his financial oversight powers to at least guide spending to where it can make a difference.
Dr Campbell has eloquently dealt with the proposed extension of the Gautrain network and I fully endorse his view that this elegant and efficient system cannot provide a mass public transport system; a profound rethink is needed before we commit to a very expensive and basically limited solution.
Speaker, in conclusion, I am saddened that the ruling Party can put so much time and energy into negatively regulating areas like tourism, agriculture and free enterprise and give such scant attention to modest and doable changes that could significantly change lives for the better.