Transport and Logistics – The Road to Sustainability

By Raine St.Claire

In the pursuit of a more sustainable future, the South African Department of Transport has embarked on a transformative journey to revitalise the nation’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure. The government’s vision is encapsulated in the National Land Transport Strategic Framework (NLTS) for 2023-2028, serving as a guiding document charting the course for the rejuvenation of the transportation sector.

The NLTS does not focus on specific outcomes but rather provides a comprehensive vision for the sector’s operation, accompanied by short-term (five-year) objectives spanning from 2023 to 2028. Its primary aim is to establish a framework that offers clarity and certainty regarding the department’s development goals while aligning plans with national policy. In response to a number of transport challenges facing the country, the department has launched a range of initiatives aimed at enhancing the public transport system, ensuring better access and safety with improved quality and efficiency. This focus is paramount, given that a majority of South Africans rely on public and non-motorised transport for daily commuting.

Prioritising the development of safer and accessible pedestrian and cycling infrastructure stands as a paramount objective that seamlessly aligns with their overarching goal of curbing carbon emissions. Acknowledging that placing an emphasis on walking and cycling inherently leads to carbon reduction, the department recognises that a significant segment of South Africa’s population heavily relies on these modes of transportation. With the exclusive aim of establishing national guidelines and standards for Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) to ensure uniformity in planning, design, and funding allocation, the department is proposing the mandatory implementation of 2-metre-wide sidewalks and 1.5-metre-wide cycle lanes on all municipal roads.

These will be accompanied by requisite signage, communication infrastructure, enforcement mechanisms, and maintenance protocols. Furthermore, the department intends to actively solicit investment for secure NMT facilities, particularly those around schools, and expand their bicycle distribution programs. In another significant development, the South African government is advancing its vision for a high-speed rail (HSR) system. Based on the National Rail Policy (NRP), the HSR framework outlines the objectives and criteria for prioritisation of this endeavour, which includes strategic considerations such as city pairings, population levels in major metropolitan areas, existing transportation infrastructure, travel distances, congestion levels, and projections for passenger volume and financial viability.

Full Steam Ahead on South Africa’s High-Speed Trains. 

The concept of high-speed trains traces its roots back to the President’s 2019 state of the nation address where he shared his vision of a future where South African cities would seamlessly connect through bullet trains, ushering in a new era of urban development grounded in the principles of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. These ambitious goals present a significant opportunity for revitalising South Africa’s rail networks by tackling issues such as criminal activity and neglect.

The NRP aims to address these challenges by injecting funds into the rail sector, nurturing a “railway renaissance,” and facilitating the commissioning of passenger/ commuter lines where current systems may fall short. While progress is ongoing, the HSR framework’s development is still underway. To fund these ambitious plans, the department foresees contributions from various tiers of government toward rail investments to the extent possible. Moreover, it contemplates exploring partnerships with interested entities to co-fund passenger services and attract private sector participation. 

As part of a concurrent initiative, the government is in the advanced stages of crafting a strategy aimed at granting provincial governments the authority to oversee passenger rail operations. The City of Cape Town has revealed that the transport department has pledged to introduce a ‘Devolution Strategy’ in 2023, aligning with one of the commitments outlined in the NRP endorsed by the cabinet.

Cape Town’s Electric Bus Pilot Programme


A recent feasibility case study, co-authored by GreenCape and partners, highlights Golden Arrow Bus Services’ (GABS) successful electric bus pilot program in Cape Town. Targeting investors and bus fleet owners in South Africa, including the public and private sectors, the study explored electric buses for public transport and renewable energy charging.

With the global rise in electric bus adoption, local insights from effective electric bus implementations are vital and relevant for cities and municipalities aiming to bolster energy resilience through electric mobility. Reports and documentation of pilot programs like this are crucial for decision makers, offering deeper insights into the journey toward fleet electrification. The potential market for electrification is substantial, given that South Africa currently boasts approximately 65,000 buses and mini-buses, serving both public transport and private sector players.

These vehicles could gradually be replaced by electric buses, as highlighted in the case study. One of the other major highlights from the report is an operational cost-benefit analysis that showed that, at current prices, GABS could save R657,000 in fuel costs per bus per year by switching from a diesel bus to an electric bus. Even though an electric bus is two to three times the cost of a diesel bus (due to import duties and taxes levied on electric vehicles), the fuel savings accrued by the bus fleet operator result in the electric bus paying for itself over its lifespan of 8 to 12 years. Considering that an average bus covers 60,000 kilometres annually, the total cost of ownership (TCO) for electric vehicles becomes increasingly attractive.

Elsewhere in Africa: Exciting Developments in African Electric Mobility

Rwanda’s Electric Bus Initiative

Rwanda is making significant strides in electric mobility to combat air pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, aligning with the country’s broader goal of decarbonising transportation. As the African Continent’s first recipient of Volkswagen’s e-Golf, the country fosters local electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers and has introduced tax incentives for EV buyers. The recent collaboration between the Rwandan government, Vivo Energy, and the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) involves the procurement of over 200 electric buses and the establishment of a charging and maintenance depot in Kigali. 

The City of Kigali has also introduced initiatives like a bikeshare scheme, car-free zones, and car-free days. Currently, nearly 900 locally manufactured electric vehicles, including motorbikes from startup Ampersand, are operating on Rwanda’s roads. The country has attracted major global automakers and leads the pack as owning the first Volkswagen EV in Africa. Electric trucks have also been deployed for essential deliveries in rural areas.

Nigeria’s Electric Taxi Revolution 

Nigeria is taking a significant step towards sustainability and eco-friendly transportation with the launch of EV Taxi by Possible EVS, a pioneering innovation and sustainable mobility company. The service aims to deploy an initial fleet of 30 electric taxis, with plans to expand to at least 20,000 electric taxis across major Nigerian cities by 2028. As fuel prices reach historic highs, commuters are feeling the strain of rising transport costs, with some spending up to 40% of their income on transportation.

Electric taxis and buses offer a more sustainable solution and revolutionise public transport in Nigeria, providing a sustainable alternative to traditional vehicles. EV taxis will contribute to Nigeria’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2060 and play a part in the global fight against climate change. Notably, the transport sector in Nigeria is responsible for about 24% of in-scope carbon emissions annually, with 72% of these emissions originating from passenger vehicles.

Cape Verde Goes Green

Cape Verde has been actively championing electric mobility since 2020, with valuable support from Germany. This endeavour marks a significant step towards sustainable public transport, highlighted by the recent introduction of its first 100% electric public transport vehicle, which has been operational for eight months. The government’s primary focus is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions originating from road transport and to enhance the utilisation of renewable energy sources in the energy mix. With a visionary goal of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2040, a substantial increase from the current 20%, Cape Verde is aligning itself with global efforts to combat climate change and establish a cleaner, more sustainable transportation system. 

South Africa’s Quest For Comprehensive Sustainable Transport: Beyond ‘Green’ Solutions

Sustainable transport in South Africa extends beyond the narrow concept of ‘green transport.’ It embraces a comprehensive perspective, one that not only minimises environmental impact but also addresses people’s access needs, promotes economic and social development, and enhances the nation’s resilience to climate change. The transport sector plays a pivotal role in tackling the interconnected challenges faced by South Africa, including socio-economic issues and climate vulnerability. This importance aligns with the President’s Just Transition Climate Commission Framework, which prioritises addressing the role of the transportation sector in achieving a just transition. 

Sustainable transport, in a comprehensive approach, involves services and infrastructure that secure safe, affordable, and efficient access to opportunities, all the while promoting economic development with minimal environmental harm. This approach not only aligns with poverty reduction but also aims to reduce societal inequality. The concept of sustainable transport principles revolve around three core concepts:“Avoid,” “Shift,” and “Improve.”

“Avoidance” refers to reducing the necessity for travel by altering accessibility and proximity to opportunities. “Shifting” involves adopting less carbon-intensive modes of mobility, while “Improvement” focuses on enhancing vehicle design, energy efficiency, and clean energy sources. While “green transport” primarily falls within the “improve” category, it may not offer a holistic solution to South Africa’s challenge of overreliance on private vehicles, a major contributor to congestion. Yet, a mere transition to electric vehicles might not suffice to address these inefficiencies.

To truly achieve a ‘Just Transition’ for South Africa and meet climate goals, it is imperative that a comprehensive reassessment of urban and transport planning methods takes place. This reevaluation should encompass the ‘Avoid’ and ‘Shift’ principles, reimagining South African cities as sustainable, pedestrian-friendly, and cyclist-friendly areas. Such an approach would not only support a just transition but also contribute significantly to South Africa’s effective attainment of its climate objectives.

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