Public Transport

Public Transport and Road Safety in South Africa

Transport Month every year focuses the attention of the public on different Transport initiatives to enhance road safety and contribute towards economic growth and development.

One of the areas that have received direct attention from the Government and the Department of Transport is the need for an effective public transport system. The Minister of Transport, Minister Radebe has stated that public transport and not a commuter transport system is what South Africa requires as the country moves towards an age of sustained growth and accelerated development. This will enable all South Africans, including the unemployed and poor, to enjoy greater access to economic and employment opportunities as well as social recreation.

Traffic congestion and gridlock had accompanied rapid economic growth and the development of the motor manufacturing industry. Road infrastructure has come under immense pressure due to competition for road space from industrial, public and private road users. Access to economic opportunities is adversely affected by traffic congestion, as business activities move from inner cities to the outskirts, further increasing the cost of fuel and transportation for all South Africans.

The vision of the Department of Transport is a public transport system that provides certain minimum levels of service in the urban and rural context thereby enabling South Africans to enjoy greater mobility.

The transformation of public transport requires consistent inter-government cooperation and coordination. This is a daunting task and will require the setting of clear public transport indicators such as reduced travel times, reduced costs, to reduce the percentage of household income spent on transport and the determination by the relevant transport authorities of the nature and size of vehicles to be used, including regular renewal of the public transport fleet and access to transport.


This section will provide an overview on the difficulties facing public transport as well as innovative ways in which these difficulties are addressed.

Overview of Public Transport in South Africa

The Department of Transport has inherited many harsh realities and difficulties for public Transport, brought about by past governmental policies of segregated development. The National Household Travel Survey [released in 2005] revealed that nearly two-thirds of households in South Africa do not have access to public transport.

The following overview will provide a better understanding of the present scenario for public transport:

  • There are approximately 3,9 million public transport commuters. The 2,5 million taxi commuters account for over 63 percent of public transport work trips, bus services account for another 22 percent of public transport commuters and the balance are carried to work by train. In addition to the 2,5 million commuters who use minibus-taxis as the main mode of travel, there are another 325 000 commuters who use taxis either as a feeder mode to other public transport services.
  • 30 per cent of households in the RSA spend more than 10 per cent of their income on public transport.
  • Minibus taxis as an informal transport system make 67.9% of a total number of trips. This highlights the important role that a well-managed minibus taxi system can play as the core focus of public transportation, and the new transportation subsidy regime of government is shifting towards the direction of supporting this sector
  • The South African Bus Operators Association (SABOA) has a membership of more than 20 000 buses spread around the country; 15 000 of those busses are used for public transport and 5 00 are used by companies to transport their employees free of charge.
  • Lack of convenient public transport has been identified as a serious obstacle for tourists to the city of Johannesburg.
  • Conventional metered taxis, unlike in other countries, do not cruise the streets in search of passengers, and must generally be summonsed by telephone.
  • Railway infrastructure in most cities covers only the older parts of cities and has net kept up with new city development.
  • Small bus operators outside the formal subsidy system struggle to raise capital and to recapitalize their bus fleet.
  • Many instances of fraudulent bus operators have complicated the process whereby contracts and subsidies are awarded.
  • Fraudulent operators are also the ones neglecting their responsibility to maintain roadworthy vehicles.

Minibus Taxi’s

The informal public transport system in South Africa is dominated by minibus taxis. This is the cheapest form of transport and the daily lifeline of the bulk of the working population. Minibus taxis are the only form of public transport that penetrates every last sector in cities, including the poorest shack settlements.

Transport by minibus taxis has unfortunately also provided some of the most serious threats to road safety. Many of the minibus taxis tend to be old and in poor condition. Minibus taxi drivers, rushing their fares to their destinations as quickly as possible in order to maximize returns, are often seen as the most notorious drivers, ducking wildly from lane to lane and stopping without warning whenever a passenger wishes to climb on or off.

The Department of Transport has taken a decision that the scrapping of old taxi vehicles will begin during Transport Month in October 2006. This is part of the much debated Taxi Recapitalization Strategy. Initial indications by the Department of Transport is that at least R7,7-billion will be spent on the taxi industry under the recapitalization programme. Many new taxi vehicles will be introduced to the streets from September 2006. These mini- and midi-bus taxis in South Africa will be color-coded and will carry specific markings to assist both commuters and traffic safety enforcement officials to identify taxis.

Much discussion is at present taking place between the Department of Transport and Taxi operators to facilitate greater co-operation towards achieving road safety for commuters. The challenges include greater cooperation between the bus industry, rail and the taxi industry in a way that will eliminate duplications, improve services and enhance the efficiency of the entire system.

Plan of Action / Transport Strategies Implemented

Government has committed towards providing South Africans with safe, accessible public transport. This has been emphasized at national, provincial and municipal level as an aspect that requires immediate attention– and it is important to analyze some of the strategies that will be implemented in years to come:

  • New budget allocations from government will focus on the investment towards building economic infrastructure which are also key to sustainable growth and development
  • Key government strategies include pushing ahead with a taxi recapitalization programme, consolidating passenger rail services, and reviewing bus services
  • The Transport Lekgotla noted the importance of a public transport system that integrates all modes including buses, taxis, metered taxis and rail as well as the transformation of the current commuter based transport system to a safe, reliable and efficient public transport system that meets the requirements of the user.
  • A "review and redesign" of existing services provided by the bus industry would take place
  • Bus services will be extended to some of the new areas of our country for improved service delivery and integration with better coordination of routes, the integration of fare and ticketing systems, and so on
  • Multi-faceted initiatives are being implemented to influence road users' behavior to rethink their traveling choices, with the Transport Month campaign encouraging people to walk, cycle, use public transport or carry several people per vehicle
  • Government already started improving transport infrastructure by building roads in disadvantaged communities and public transport terminals
  • The Transport Lekgotla resolved to accelerate the implementation of the turnaround plan for passenger railway services over a two year period. It will focus on customer service with emphasis on reducing train delays, cancellations, punctuality and comfort.
  • Safety and security for railway passengers will be enhanced through the rollout of the police service and the rail service as well as rationalizing security services rendered by private security companies
  • Joint operations between taxis and buses have already started on some long-distance routes within the system, and this is one way to develop cheaper and more innovative ways to serve isolated communities through the appropriate mode of transport instead of buses. This is consistent with the vision of subsidising journeys not modes.
  • Government at all levels, working through transport authorities, will set comprehensive standards for the operation of various public transport modes. This will include the type and size of vehicles on these routes, roadworthy requirements and standards, fare determination, frequency of services, and so on. Regular inspection will ensure that service and safety standards are adhered to at all times
  • The Department of Transport is committed to providing bicycles to school children and poor households in the rural and peri-urban areas of our country
  • Travel demand management measures are implemented to manage private car use in major metropolitan centres to identify and implement dedicated bus and taxi lanes to allow the speedy transit of public transport vehicles such as buses and taxis 
  • Intelligent Transport System (ITS) -- a five-year pilot project is being implemented on the Ben Schoeman highway – to improve road safety and reduce traffic congestion
  • The Department is also advocating an increase in the number of commuters using public transport and “ride sharing” – a concept it’s trying to encourage through the use of park and ride facilities at either end of the journey
  • The Road Traffic Management Corporation is engaging with the South African Bureau for Standards (SABS) with the view to improving safety of buses. This will ensure that operators involved in subsidized contracts renew their bus fleet and that their buses are subjected to regular maintenance and testing by authorized testing stations.

The 2010 World Cup and Public Transport

The 2010 World Cup appears to have been the catalyst for the increased focus on public transport. The Mini-budget [25 October 2006]  revealed that South Africa's network of national roads is to get an additional R1bn for maintenance and rehabilitation over the next three years. The 2010 World Cup has been beneficial to all South Africans in years to come. The focus on public transport is evident from the following steps prior to the World Cup:

  • R20 bn on airports development for the next five years
  • R400m on Air Traffic Navigation Systems
  • R7.7 bn on the Taxi Recapitalization Programme
  • R70bn on the preservation and upgrading of our road network infrastructure
  • R3bn for Access roads under the Expanded Public Works Programme
  • R23bn on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Scheme
  • R25 bn on the Gautrain Rail link project
  • R18bn on the improvement of the passenger rail system for the next 4 years
  • R13.6bn on improving South Africa’s public transport infrastructure for 2010.

It is encouraging that government has also earmarked funds to facilitate preparations and transport infrastructure requirements for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and beyond, for provinces and host cities.

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