by Christine James
American Reporter Correspondent
Johannesburg, South Africa
October 21, 2006
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION A SORE POINT IN JOHANNESBURG
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Oct. 20, 2006 -- It was Car Free Day in Johannesburg today. Not that there was a noticeable difference from any other day.
The usual busy rush hour chaos lasted, as always, for most of the workday. The regular as clockwork morning fender benders still happened and at least two people ended up in hospital as a result of road rage. The only thing that was conspicuously absent was public transport.
Car Free Day is randomly foisted on Johannesburg drivers as a way of making the public more aware of the effect of the heavy traffic and to take advantage of public transport. Unfortunately, Johannesburg public transport is largely non-existent in areas where residents are more likely to own cars and drive to work.
Local government appears to have overlooked the fact that the desire of the public to catch a bus to work will not make that bus magically appear. Many Jo'burgers, as they're known, would love to hop on a bus or underground train and travel to work like Londoners can, but the fact that the excellent London transport infrastructure was developed over decades of planning and investment, not as a marketing ploy to force people to leave their cars at home, seems lost on the 'powers that be.'
Strangely, the government is bringing some other ideas into play to reduce congestion, one of them being a High Occupancy Vehicle Lane on one of Johannesburg's busy highways for vehicles carrying three or more people. But the traffic police are either unwilling or unable to say how they will monitor and control the correct usage of this lane by the generally aggressive Johannesburg drivers with an unhealthy disrespect for traffic laws.
Work is also going ahead on the much anticipated 'Gautrain', which will run between Johannesburg and Pretoria. The Gautrain system will cost in the region of ZAR20 billion (US$2.6 billion). There are promises that it will link into existing public transport systems, which leads back to the original problem - where exactly are the existing public transport systems?
As serious as the problem is now, the big worry in sports-crazy South Africa is the Soccer World Cup that will be hosted here in 2010. The increase in tourism during the 4-week period of the world cup will stretch South Africa's transport capacity to, and beyond, its limits.
It is expected that the country's car hire fleets will be hired out completely, together with the tourism industry's charter and shuttle fleets, and that the event would require 60 trains, about 2,400 buses and at least 6,000 minibus taxis. As the matches will be played in nine host cities around the country, domestic airlines will also have their schedules overloaded.
"If you don't add capacity, you are in trouble," deputy director general of integrated planning and inter-sphere coordination, Mathabatha Makonyama warns.
Certainly, something needs to be done. Although the Gauteng province's transport minister, Ignatius Jacobs admits that Gauteng's public transport system was underdeveloped, he also says that it is underused - ignoring the fact that it is impossible to use a system that doesn't work.
At the same time, Gauteng transport spokesperson Alfred Nhlapo argues that "it needs everyone. You can't wake up and find it [transport] in good shape overnight." So we have a chicken-or-the-egg situation developing. Motor vehicle owners can't use public transport that doesn't exist, and government won't bring public transport into existence until motor vehicle owners use it.
It seems that the public transport situation, as well as the traffic, is at a standstill.
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