Thursday, June 30, 2011

Business Day: Radical changes coming to transport facilities

Published: 2011/06/29 07:04:59 AM

TRANSPORT infrastructure in SA will radically change over the next few years. The Department of Transport’s international investors conference earlier this month showcased projects ranging from the well- known (the expansion of bulk freight rail for coal, iron ore and manganese) to the ambitious (high-speed rail between Johannesburg and Durban), to the practical low-cost high-impact (1- million bicycles to rural areas).

The projects discussed were guided by the n ational t ransport m aster p lan (Natmap) 2050, which sets out the national transport priorities for the next 40 years. The total value on all Natmap projects is R751,74bn over a 40-year period. Most spending (43%) would be on rail, followed by roads (27%). Spending on passenger rail (25%) would be highest, followed by freight rail (18%); national roads (16%); harbours and airports ( 12%); and other roads ( 10%).

Lack of investment in roads, rail and the maritime sector could undermine the benefits of SA’s recent joining of the Brics trading bloc. We have called on the business sector to invest in these sectors.

Ship building and repairs in SA are still being done overseas. Coastal cities are urged to put money into the maritime sector to boost regional integration. The colonial set-up left Africa with no skills to develop its own maritime sector. The capacity of SA to manage its maritime resources needs to be beefed up.

After almost 40 years in operation, the current rail system ( technology, operating procedures, service-design and skills base) is fast approaching the end of its design- life. The government is already implementing key elements of its rail investment strategy to ensure that rail is the backbone of SA’s public transport system. As of April 1, the government is spending R30,2b n over the next three years for rail upgrades, with R19,5b n earmarked for capital spending to upgrade existing infrastructure, signalling systems and rolling stock. The Passenger Rail Agency of SA is investing in new rail rolling stock worth R97bn over 18 years for Metrorail and long-distance rail services, which will increase the country’s passenger rail transport network.

Transformation of public transport investment, which is heavily biased at the expense of rural areas, is a necessity. Not only does the bias promote migration to urban areas, but the transport costs also affect the earnings of rural communities. One such example is the more than 600 buses that travel 160km from KwaNdebele each morning to Tshwane and back again in the afternoon along the Moloto Corridor. Leaving home at 3am and arriving back at 9pm, these commuters are bused to and from work. The government is subsidising this system to the tune of R412m a year — more than the monthly salaries of most of those commuters. We are investigating an alternative, safe and more cost-effective transport network for the Moloto Corridor, which would cut down travel time.

The Gautrain rapid rail network also ushers in a new era in public transport and matches world norms. The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project has been designed to ensure intermodal facilities between Metrorail, Gautrain, buses and taxis, and will allow commuters to use public transport effectively.

A platform for engagement with potential investors and partners has been established, which will unblock administrative bottlenecks to accelerate these important investments. This structure will facilitate partnerships within the established legislative framework.

We are also conscious of the need not to overburden the fiscus with unmanageable debt; and not to overburden commuters with uneconomic tariffs. This will be done through careful cost-benefit analysis and engagement with all stakeholders. But also of importance is the establishment of an effective and streamlined economic regulatory regime for transport, through a single transport economic regulator, to ensure a predictable tariff regime across all modes.

This marks the beginning of a sustained dialogue and action plan for the improvement of mobility in SA.

The government’s public transport plans are not a promise for the next millennium. Consolidated multibillion-rand improvements to transport infrastructure over the next two years are guaranteed to radically change the way South Africans travel. Amounting to R66b n over the next year, and rising to R80b n by 2013-14, the improvements are set to create numerous job and tourism opportunities, with both urban and rural areas benefiting.

• Ndebele is Minister of Transport

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