By Jessie Taylor
Millions of South Africans rely on public transport to access essential services or commute to and from employment opportunities. Managing the intricate roads and rail network that form the public transport system falls to the national Department of Transport.
While maintaining roads and railway lines may seem a simple task, ensuring South Africans have a reliable transport network requires innovation and extensive planning. Safe, accessible, and affordable public transport is essential to socio-economic development as it enables the population to access work and reduce poverty levels.
Transport that meets the public’s needs
Based on the 2020 National Household Travel Survey, around 35% of the population uses public transport to commute to work or educational institutions. More than 10 million individuals made use of taxis.
There has been a gradual decrease in the use of public transport, from 5,4 million in 2013 to 4,7 million in 2020. Around 35% of workers used public transport. Of these commuters, more than 80% used taxis.
There has been an increase in the use of taxi transport (from 9,8 million to 11,4 million households), but there was a decrease in those who used buses (from 2,9 million to 2,1 million) and trains (1,4 million to 500 000).
This could be in part due to the length of travel times. The survey reported that in 2020, workers who used public transport experienced a long travel time in the morning to access their workplace; train users travelled for 107 minutes, bus travellers spent 84 minutes travelling, and taxi users travelled 63 minutes.
To encourage further rail use, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has vowed to improve the performance of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) through several programmes.
Minister Mbalula has said the rail agency is repairing and reopening passenger rail corridors following vandalism during the pandemic. He added that security measures would be introduced to reduce vandalism and theft to government maintenance and repair work on these lines. More than a quarter of the Department’s budget has been allocated to Prasa to upgrade infrastructure and increase the number of operating trains. The Department is working to introduce alternative models, similar to the Gautrain, in other provinces with growing populations, Minister Mbalula says.
But that’s not the only public transport sector that will receive a boost from the government. To make public transport more accessible, Minister Mbalula has announced plans to invest in South Africa’s most widely used form of public transport.
The Department is planning to introduce a new taxi subsidy, and a number of different models are currently being explored. This would likely see the industry, made up of around 250 000 taxi operators, becoming more formalised.
The industry has been plagued by violence and disputes over routes, which Minister Mbalula intends to address by establishing a task team focusing on taxi violence. This would also help professionalise the taxi industry and regulate routes.
Changes to improve daily commuting
But not all commuters rely on public transport, with much of South Africa’s road network used by private vehicles.
In the transport survey, more than 43% of workers use private transport as their primary mode of travel to work. The same survey found more than six million people drove a car or truck to complete these journeys.
Those who use private transportation face the shortest commutes – those who used a car or truck as passengers needed 49 minutes to get to work, while those who drove took 44 minutes.
Motorists can also expect to see some changes implemented by the Department. These include the extension of working hours to reduce backlogs in renewing drivers’ license, especially in Gauteng. The initiative will see Driving Licence Testing Centres managed by the Road Traffic Management Corporation, operating later on weekdays and over weekends. This plan could add around 30% capacity to the centres and could be deployed nationally if effective.
The validity and grace period of all licence documentation expiring from 26 March this year has been extended to 31 March 2022.
In addition, Mbalula said processes were under way to introduce online payments while deploying new National Traffic Information Systems (NaTIS) end-user equipment across provinces. These updates will allow for the immediate validation of fingerprints and reduce delays. Another update will allow optometrists the authority to upload eye test results directly to the NaTIS system.
Ensuring access to public transport and reliable road networks is essential to keep the economy ticking over by giving the population access to work opportunities and reducing poverty. Implementing changes to create efficient public transport services and improving the efficiency of the drivers’ license system are just some ways to ensure the essential sector continues to create economic opportunity.
Five changes to drivers’ licences the Department of Transport is introducing
Minister Mbalula recently announced five critical changes for drivers’ licenses, which aim to improve the efficiency of the existing licensing system.
These changes include:
- The creation of more Driving Licence Testing Centres (DLTCs)
- Extended operating hours at DLTCs
- The rollout of mobile centres and kiosks at busy centres
- Introduction of online payments at DLTCs
- Eyes tests can be submitted by optometrists directly
The changes are part of a range of services that will improve customer experience, said Minister Mbalula.
New leadership takes charge at the Department of Transport
Newly appointed Deputy Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga has taken up her leadership role at the Department. She was appointed in August after serving as Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration from 30 May 2019.
Deputy Minister Chikunga is familiar with the role, having been appointed as Deputy Minister of Transport in 2014.
She has held numerous positions as a member of Parliament, serving on the Correctional Services Portfolio Committee; Joint Budget Portfolio Committee; Housing Portfolio Committee; Auditor General and Joint Standing Committee on Defence. She held the position of Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Police from 2009 to 2012.
Despite her political accomplishments, Deputy Minister Chikunga began her career as a midwife. She trained as a nurse at the Edendale Nursing College in KwaZulu-Natal and has been posted to various clinics and hospitals in Mpumalanga. She was appointed as head of a nursing college before moving into politics.
In her political role, she has served as an ex officio member of both the ANC Women’s League Regional Executive Committee and the ANC Regional Executive Committee. She has held the position of ANC Deputy Regional Secretary and Regional Secretary for Gert Sibande Region.
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