Transport Month like a car without wheels

The observance of Transport Month in South Africa in October again highlights government’s fractured, piecemeal approach to transport issues in the country, says the Automobile Association (AA).

The Association says while Transport Month has been launched with a bang, there appears to be little or no progress in improving road infrastructure, or the daily mobility crisis faced by millions of South Africans.

“Highlighting transport issues in one month of the year while not very much is done in the other eleven months of the year to deal with the problems of mobility and transport is meaningless, and a waste of taxpayer money. This approach is like the seasonal campaigns on road safety: improving road safety won’t happen because two or three weeks of the year are spent speaking of the problem while nothing is done to improve road safety in the other 49 weeks of the year. In our view this is the same in relation to Transport Month and road transport and mobility issues confronting citizens daily,” notes the AA.

The Association notes that one of the stated objectives of Transport Month is to “… raise awareness of the importance of the sector (transport) on the economy”. In this context, various plans and goals for transport are announced by the national and provincial Departments of Transport at public events in October.

“But the reality is that millions of South Africans continue to struggle with inadequate road transport, poor mobility solutions, and with deteriorating road infrastructure, and the already weak economy continues to suffer because of the low – or slow – pace of road transport development. We are not convinced that enough is being done to address this dire situation and observing Transport Month simply papers over the cracks with public events and pronouncements,” says the AA.

As an example, the AA notes, again, that road crashes cost the economy upwards of R200bn annually.

“Yet recommendations such as doubling the number of traffic law enforcers on the country’s roads to deal more effectively with road traffic violations go unheeded. In fact, statistics show the country’s road safety record has not improved significantly at all during the past decade despite many Ministers of Transport committing themselves and their department to doing just that. Another example is the vast amount of money directed to the Gautrain which caters for an elite group of commuters,” says the AA.

In its latest annual report, the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) notes that in the 2022/2023 financial year Bombela – the private concessionaire (operator) of the Gautrain – received a R2.3bn subsidy known as the Patronage Guarantee from the Gauteng Department of Roads and Infrastructure for lower ridership levels on the system. This money came from the department’s total budget of around R8.5bn. This means that a more than 27% of the budget was spent on servicing a small group of commuters while the majority of commuters in the province still face enormous mobility issues with reduced funding to resolve them.

“In this context, for instance, we believe other more suitable public transport initiatives should benefit from this public funding, which is currently not the case. Against this patently unfair background – and given the enormous transport and mobility challenges in the country – government is failing to acknowledge that citizens want real, meaningful change, and not the observance of a month where much is said but in which little is done to improve their transport, mobility, and road infrastructure needs,” the AA concludes.