Perhaps I am wrong, but I am very confident that it now takes you a few more minutes to get to work
or drop the kids at school using the same road you used last year.
This is a clear indication that the number of private cars keeps on increasing drastically daily, and although this might be amazing news to us all, there is a bad element to this. I am fully confident that the usage of public transportation by most South Africans will benefit not only the economy but the environment.
In 2005, during the Transport Lekgotla in South Africa, the month of October was declared Transport Month. This month is to be used to elevate awareness on the important role of transport in the economy and to encourage participation from civil society and business, including the provision of a safe and more affordable, accessible and reliable transport system in the country. So, this month, you can expect many transportation statistics like this one: according to an eNaTIS report, at the end of December 2016, 11 964 234 (11 million plus) cars were registered with a total of 12 009 553 in January 2017, this is an additional 45 319 cars in just one month. Can you imagine what will happen if this continues with an additional 10 000 every month?
Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego, a Colombian Politician, Economist, Presidential candidate and former Mayor of Bogotá, once said a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.
This is a statement that has changed how I view the future of transport.
Not so long ago, my perception about the future of transport included personalized flying cars powered by artificial intelligence technologies, automated buses that travel faster than the Gautrain, solar-powered bicycles and motors that are portable and so much more. This is all great and somewhat fictitious, but since fiction is now becoming a reality, I have no doubt that we will be seeing these ideas soon, however, before we get there, we need to put all our focus on public transportation. In most cases, unfortunately, developing countries are tempted to adopt ideas from developed countries, ignoring the fact that our economic, environmental and technological challenges are not the same. Before thinking of flying cars in South Africa, we need to build a sound public transportation system that caters to everyone, no matter their class. Hence, as we celebrate transportation in South Africa this month, I would like to challenge you to park your car and use public transport.
But why would you want to stop using your own comfortable car that plays your favorite music at just the right volume chosen, with windows perfectly adjusted, giving you that Friday feeling on a Monday morning? Here is why:
- Public transport creates employment. An article published by the UITP Advancing Public Transport showed that public transport is a major contributor to both national and local city economies through the diverse range of skilled, high-tech jobs that it offers directly. Public transport operators alone employ some 7.3-million people worldwide with authorities accounting for another 300 000 internationally. In many European cities, such as Brussels, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Paris, public transport operators are, in fact, the largest city employers.
- Using public transport lessens traffic congestions. According to the 2010 Tourism & Transport Forum’s (TTF) position paper, urban congestion is widely regarded as one of the great productivity bottlenecks of developed economies. Incorporating the projected growth in urban traffic over the next decade, this figure will increase to over $20 billion if current trends in transport continue unabated.
- By 2020, greenhouse gas emissions from road transport are predicted to be more than two- thirds higher than their 1990 levels, with cars still accounting for the majority. This is according to OzeBus. By using public transport, the amount of toxic gases produced by cars is reduced.
Some might argue that the future is here, that electronic cars are replacing fuel combustion cars while companies like Uber are allowing people to have fewer cars on the road. The problem with such statements is that they are theoretically correct but practically fallacious. Although electric cars are here, very few people can afford them, so most South Africans are left with no option but to continue buying fuel combustion cars, thus, contributing to climate change, traffic congestion and many other challenges. Companies like Uber have a target market that is comfortable with paying two or three times the normal public fare and, again, that market, especially in developing countries, is the minority. Lastly, most people are still not sharing cars. Even when using Uber services, one person requests a ride by themselves, this does not solve the problem, if anything, it is contributing more to it. This just goes to show that Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego’s statements have become more important than ever before. For South Africa to grow into a developed country, we should not celebrate when the poor buy cars, we should celebrate when the rich use public transport and it starts with you. So, park your car and start using public transport.