Our strategic investments in our transport sector over the last 19 years of freedom have been transforming the way in which we live.
For many South Africans these investments have improved their quality of life with services, places of work, study and entertainment becoming more accessible.
Today our transport system is significantly different from the one we inherited under apartheid, which was designed to enforce, perpetuate and strengthen the separation of racial groups.
Public buses and trains were mainly to facilitate the mass movement of black labour in and out of inner-city workplaces as and when required. The system’s unreliability, inadequate capacity and speed had forced thousands of workers to spend a large part of their working day commuting.
This month we celebrate our advances in the transport sector as we observe Transport Month under the theme: “Celebrating 20 years delivering efficient, reliable and safe transport services.”
During our democratic journey government has made a concerted effort to develop and improve the country’s transport system.
This has resulted in an increase in the provision of a safe, reliable, efficient and affordable transport system. It has also moved us towards a high quality Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network (IRPN) for both freight and passenger users.
The government understands that an effective transport system is the heartbeat of our nation and serves as a catalyst for socio-economic development.
While more needs to be done to bring our transport system to where we would like it to be, the key building blocks are in place for its long-term development.
We envision that by 2020 more than 85 per cent of the population of any of our cities will be living within a kilometre of an integrated rapid public transport network feeder or corridor.
Initiatives such as the Gautrain, the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project and the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system in our main cities are our first steps to an integrated transport system.
For example here in the City of Tshwane, the single largest metropolitan municipality in South Africa that manages 2.5 million residents, the Tshwane rapid transit system A Re Yeng will carry more than 127 000 passengers a day when it is completed.
The first phase will commence in April, linking the city centre to Hatfield. The route will then be extended to link Soshanguve, Mamelodi, Menlyn and Lynnwood.
The City of Tshwane is among 13 cities around the country in which government will, in the current financial year, invest more than R5.5 billion on planning, building and operating public transport networks.
In the City of Johannesburg, the long-term plan is for its BRT system, Rea Vaya, to cover 330km, allowing more than 80 per cent of its residents to catch a bus.
Speaking at the launch of Transport Month, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said: “The (BRT) system is a catalyst for urban regeneration, reconnecting isolated nodes and bringing disconnected communities closer to economic opportunities.”
Furthermore, the government has been hard at work building and maintaining existing national, provincial and municipal roads to facilitate economic growth, local economic development and job creation.
Despite our best efforts, our critics have bemoaned the pace of work in addressing the backlog in road construction and maintenance.
Our road infrastructure is worth over R1 trillion and requires R30 billion a year for maintenance. Limited resources means we are unable to move fast enough to improve all our roads.
Financial constraints, however, have not stopped us from moving forward with projects. Through the S’hamba Sonke Roads Programme we have a capital investment programme to building much needed road infrastructure in our rural areas.
While we continuously strive to provide the best transport infrastructure, an area that has challenged us is our unacceptably high number of road accidents caused in most cases by irresponsible drivers.
Apart from the tragic loss of live and devastation caused to families, road accidents are estimated to cost the economy R306 billion a year.
These accidents can be prevented, as more than 90 per cent of them occur when traffic regulations are violated. The government calls on all South Africans to change their behaviour to create safer roads.
We have committed ourselves to halving the number of road deaths by 2020 in support of the UN Decade of Action 2011-2020.
In addition, we are refurbishing passenger trains and railway stations to provide reliable, secure and affordable rail services.
Trains are our nation’s main mode of transport, with Metrorail trains carrying about 30 000 people a day and about 256 million passengers a year.
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) is acquiring 7 224 new Metrorail coaches, which will help to meet passenger demand over the next 20 years. It will also restore Metrorail services to the highest level of safety, efficiency and reliability.
Our transport infrastructure investments have changed our urban landscape; they have helped improve economic efficiency improving the timeous movement of goods and services.
Moreover, they have positioned the country as an attractive destination for investment. They build investor confidence and contribute towards economic development.
As a gateway to other African markets, South Africa’s transport infrastructure such as our ports, rail links, pipelines, and roads are helping to support the economic development of the region and the continent.
The many transport upgrades and road works that we see every day in and around our cities mean that that the face of South Africa is changing. Through these changes we are ensuring a better quality of life through better transport.
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)