Transport components balance policy, knowledge and capacity to implement

This note is a reflection on some of the major themes emanating from a presentation to the Provincial Transport Forum on why transport components need to be established.

It’s a 2–3 hour drive to the initial location of the North West Provincial Transport Forum. The PTF is held every quarter at a different location all over the Province. It is important for all municipalities to feel involved hence the need to rotate between locations. Politically, Frantz Fanon once argued that presidential estates should be rotated and capital cities should not be fixed. Doing so encourages nation building and public confidence. Without digressing, the PTF is a platform for the province to discuss transport and logistics issues and listen to regional reports on various matters. At the beginning of 2017, a task team was established to pursue the devolution of transport functions. These are some notes from a series of presentations I’m preparing in addition to those that are run by colleagues in the task team.

Policies, capacity and politics

Transport policy is not an inherent playground upon which the average public official swings between clauses in order to address the causes of problems. On one hand it may be a question of the extent to which policies are publicised. On the other hand there seems to be a knowledge vacuum related to the development and implementation of mobility and access related policies. The argument on the ground is a lack of capacity within the public sector system — especially in transportation. Such a limitation is associated with the politics that hinder even those sections, or motivated individuals from acting upon responsibilities they are willing to take. From a transport component perspective, each of these need to be addressed at strategic, tactical and operational levels. In reality, relationships and motivation seem to be a key ingredient to pulling together the right people to pursue a public goal in the provision of transport services. Therefore, technical know how is not the only determinant of effective transport systems at district and local municipal levels. Somehow a balance between motivation, skill, political experience and a willingness to learn should be reinforced by technical capacity in the transportation component.

Somehow a balance between motivation, skill, political experience and a willingness to learn should be reinforced by technical capacity in the transportation component.

Knowledge, process, procedure and implementation

The knowledge industry in South Africa does not seem to reinforce the implementation of policies. This should be a shock, or an unusual statement. There is more discussion around the policy ‘environment’ (broad array of contexts active at once) than there is a focus on the policy ‘context’ (very specific). Which ties very closely to a notion that relativity is normalised through popular statements such as “it is all relative” — instead of focus on the context specific nature of such ‘relativity’. By merely adopting, imitating or retrofitting technical solutions between countries or cities, decision makers miss the opportunity to truly apply themselves. Many of the transport investment and service projects in South Africa miss the opportunity to translate international best practice within the domestic policy, political and knowledge economy.

It is a global issue. One study reviewed a selection of papers in international journals of policy and found that there was a disproportionate focus on policy making as an activity. There was also limited evidence that authors who wrote papers were actually contributing to a specific policy position. Personally, I try by all means to locate a study within the context of a specific policy position. That way officials have access to technical knowledge, and may be able to translate such within a specific policy context — not just environment.

For the establishment of transport components, my observations suggest that there is a web of policies that officials need intimate knowledge and experience of. Meanwhile many policies appear to be drafted with the procedures, functions, and responsibilities in mind. This is problematic because policies are the direct contact space between public sector and public service. The provision of transportation services at district and local municipal level demands explicit indicators for implementation to take place, and so that it can be evaluated. So if for example, the National Land Transport Act No 5 of 2009 (as amended) reflects that public sector officials should ensure that transport planning takes place: then transport planning will take place. The question on the ground will be: “according to which policy statement will we implement?” Which is exactly where the knowledge-and-implementation deficit truly climbs out of the jungle-gym.

Transport components

Very specific programmes exist through National Treasury, with specific actions, and indicators. StepSA is also an interesting point of reference for measurable action. At policy and practical levels there is a genuine vacuum, which I can not express fully as yet. National level discussions around transport functions and their devolution are valuable within the policy environment. However, what is truly important to officials on the ground who will occupy such components are the practical and contextual implications of devolved transport functions. I believe that through this process of constant engagement, soft and hard-skills will exchange. One thing for the reader is that these are my notes on engagements — not complete reflections on the subject.

If policies continue to be structured as such, without the appropriate and reinforcing outputs circulated between knowledge industries, soft skills and procurement — simply retrofitting might just suit us well.

However, I am currently of the opinion that transport components need very specific efforts through guidelines, best practice and other facets of implementation drafted internally. Such internal solutions should not be outsourced by conventional means. The establishment of transport components and the devolution of transport functions to such components goes as deep as reforming institutional procurement and financing systems. How are officials expected to implement mobility and access solutions; support systems; and build versatile capacity in a manner that reflects increasingly innovative environment? If policies continue to be structured as such, without the appropriate and reinforcing outputs circulated between knowledge industries, soft skills and procurement — simply retrofitting might just suit us well. Transport components are necessary because they will facilitate greater and more detailed context specificity at public, private and community levels. The knowledge industry in SA needs to shift from appreciating technical or qualitative know-how, to locating these research process outputs within the policy context related to the problem/solution statement.

Postnotes on NMT Policy

The policy on Non-Motorised Transport is to my knowledge the only policy in SA that is reinforced by guidelines. The policy itself does not have the robustness that I would personally appreciate (which is clear in the NLTA at least). The guidelines are good first generation guidelines — we can certainly improve as the policy should be reviewed toward 2050. There are a few books that came on on the NMT side recently, but I can’t say much before actually reading them in terms of policy ‘environments’ or policy ‘contexts’. The same issue applies to Paratransit services, and other types of transport modes. Work by Roger Behrens is propelling important technical and capacity related discussions, however the policy side of the conversation is becoming more and more relevant for stakeholders. Practical reinforcements are necessary. There are guidelines on establishing transport components in SA lead by Dawood and Mokonyama through the Fiscal Financial Commission. I will be providing an in depth translation at some point, but must mention that the knowledge side remains largely aggregate. It would be of value if officials and emerging researchers/practitioners (like me) worked to translate the subject matter to local contenxts — especially in the townspace.

*NLTA: National Land Transport Act No. 5 of 2009 as amended.


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