South Africa’s public transport pipe-dream

There is a lot of public transport happening, but it’s fragmented and not coordinated.

Image by J Flowers

Every South African aspires to owning a car. This desire goes well beyond the need to acquire a simple means of transport; personal image is tightly bound to the social status of the South African psyche.

For the poor, the first step on the social ladder is the means to buy a bicycle. A personal means of transport in a country that has very limited public transport facilities translates into financial status.

Owning a car is the next thing to status heaven. For those who can afford it, why own a little Kia when you can drive the latest Ford Ranger 4x4? Why be seen in a common Ford when you can drive a Jeep?

This perception of status keeps commuters self driving even in areas where there are reasonably regular bus services.

Public transport vehicles in South Africa are often old, unreliable and have limited routes. With the exception of the Gautrain, rail transport is crowded, poorly maintained and very often dirty.

The mini taxis also known as pirate taxis have a bad reputation for unsafe driving and frequently stop running services in order to have taxi route wars.

Strike action by bus drivers results in disruption of services. An incident last week in the Cape resulted in the death of several passengers whenpetrol bombs were thrown at a bus.

The concept of car-pool sharing and lift clubs is still fairly new and in comparison to more developed countries is seldom considered in terms of energy saving and conservation. The amount of lift clubbing and car pooling barely makes a dent in the traffic flow of South Africa.

The primary means of transport to work and school involves the use of a private car or mini-taxi. The average number of passengers per trip is 4 people. This translates into each passenger generating 2,485.22kg of CO2 per year. To put this into a tangible context — it takes 28.98 trees per passenger per year to generate enough oxygen to compensate for this pollution.

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