What is to be done?

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By Lucky Montana

The discussion and debate about e-tolls following the ANC March on Friday has raised a number of vitally important issues. I have noted some very good points as well as “ruthless criticisms” being made by my own comrades and others on social media. I must be honest and say that I have not though about some of the issues that have been raised in response. You always learn from such engagements.

However, there are still those angry voices that prefer to play the man and not the ball. Unfortunately, I do not have time for such people. I should perhaps remind them that other than me not taking these attacks seriously, I generally thrive and become stronger when insults and other derogatory words are thrown my way.

I should re-state the key issues that I am raising in this debate. There has been a lot of responses focusing on the e-toll contract and its serious limitations. The leader of OUTA, Wayne Duvenage has been vocal about the contract and he responded passionately over the weekend to my posts/tweets.

It is important that I first clarify what I am not saying. I am not in-principle opposed to the scrapping of e-tolls. I am not defending the specific contract that SANRAL entered into with its service provider or the specific form this has taken.

The many criticisms that OUTA and many others have raised about the contract, specifically that only a small fraction of the money generated goes towards construction or maintenance of roads with the bulk of the funds alleged leaving the country, is one that SANRAL and Government should take seriously and address as part of restoring public confidence in the work of this important public entity. I am not part of SANRAL or Government, and I am therefore not assuming the responsibility to defend the e-toll contract.

Let me address what I am saying on this matter by focusing on three specific issues that I have highlighted previously and hopefully take the discussion and debate to the next level. I intend also to highlight specific actions that I think the Gauteng Government should take to address our challenges of public transport in Gauteng.

(1.) The Gauteng City Region and the Relevance of Tolling

I move from the premise that what we call the Gauteng City Region is facing serious social and economic challenges. Central to these challenges is the rapid rate of urbanization.

For the Gauteng Province and the Western Cape, this presents specific challenges about planning and delivery of social and economic infrastructure to address poverty, inequality and meet growing demands of the entire region. The information on how these issues affect Gauteng are all captured in various Stats SA reports, which the former Statistician-General, Pali Lehohla highlighted many times prior to his departure.

If we fail to address this in a coherent manner, increasing numbers of households and people will lead desperate lives. The competition over limited resources and the struggle to survive could become severe resulting in social conflict and political instability.

I have studied the stats of the last ten (10) years about Gauteng cities and projected growth into the future. I wish to state that without a quality public transport system, and some form of tolling of key roads, the Gauteng City Region will not be able to function productively, move people and goods in manner that is safe, efficient and generate sufficient number of jobs for its people.

The Gauteng City Region will not be able to facilitate greater access for poor households. The region will not be able to meet growing demands for services and economic opportunities. Gauteng will be overcrowded, roads congested, environment polluted and therefore unable to deliver clean, liveable, sustainable and prosperous cities by 2030.

It is important that we adopt social and economic policies that prepare us for the future. We need a leadership that is honest with and engage with citizens on what will be required to build a better future. The leadership is today agitating against the e-toll scheme but fail to appreciate that in 12 years times, Gauteng, in order to deal with the growth in its economy, the increasing number of people coming to the Province in search of a better life, the number of vehicles, will require more roads that are managed differently.

Gauteng cannot keep on building more roads. It has to implement various strategies to manage, among others, the increase in the number of vehicles on these roads. The leadership should engage with citizens and explain why it is important to take some of the measures today. I do not buy the story that the “ANC is choosing the people, because the people are against e-tolls”. This is extremely irresponsible.

Gauteng does not only need tolling of roads, but require specifically e-tolls because of the nature and size of its economy as well as the number of vehicles in the system. The form of tolling is informed by the size of the economy and economic activities that are taking place. The tolling system you put in place should facilitate rather than serve as a brake on economic development.

The ANC is mobilizing people against the e-toll system. The big question is whether the ANC will be able to convince and rally the people behind any Government decisions when tolling becomes necessary? Do you think the people will support such a call?

The truth is that Gauteng will require tolling (not of all its roads) but part of its road network in the near future. The need for tolling of roads was recognized when Parliament passed the Act that established SANRAL in 1998. Nelson Mandela was
President of the Republic, and if I remember well, Mama Albertina Sisulu was still a Member of Parliament. We should not only celebrate these national heroes to suit our agenda but also indicate to the people that these leaders were prepared to make thought decisions that would be in the long-term interests of the country.

I challenge the leadership of the ANC in Gauteng to state categorically that in their vision for the Gauteng City Region, they do not envisage the tolling of any road at all. If the ANC says it is convinced, having studied current statistics and projected numbers for the next 20 years, that this will not happen, then we know that there is a big problem.

I personally expect the ANC to win the 2019 elections nationally and in Gauteng. The ANC will win the elections next year but will deliver a Gauteng City Region that is in a terrible state by 2030 – a region that is not safe, not efficient, not productive or prosperous for my children and grand-children.

We need a strong and united ANC that does not allow its fear of losing power to drive or define its overall agenda. Yes, the ANC is a political party and is contesting to remain in power. However, a strong, united and dynamic ANC will act in the best interest of the people of South Africa as a whole. It will have the courage to mobilize people, black and white, behind a vision of a better future as well as willing to take unpopular decisions when conditions demand.

Unlike any other political party in our country, I believe the ANC has a “special responsibility” to the people of South Africa. It is the biggest political organisation in the country and the oldest liberation movement in the Continent. It has won all the national elections since the advent of democracy in April 1994. I expect my organisation to provide leadership and not hide behind “cheap” political slogans.

There are instances when the ANC will act against its own narrow interests as long as this unites the nation, take the country forward and delivers a prosperous future. Again, no other political party in our country has this “special responsibility” like the African National Congress.

The ANC reflects the present but equally embodies the future hopes of the people. It learns from their experiences but equally educates them, it challenges stereotypes and our prejudices as well as transform unequal power-relations. It ensures that we overcome the national psyche that keeps us in bondage.

I wrote previously that part of our national psyche is one that refuses to make sacrifices for tomorrow. We want our thing today. We want Johannesburg and other cities to be “world-class” cities but we are not prepared to make the necessary decisions and sacrifices to deliver this.

Freedom comes with responsibility. The creation of an integrated public transport system and tolling of roads is part of our collective responsibility. We need a leadership that has the courage to tell the people the truth, ask them to make the necessary compromises and even sacrifices for the country to move forward.

In turn, the leadership should not be corrupt and commit to deliver a fair and equitable society where everyone lives in dignity and meet their basic needs. The Gauteng City Region requires women and men that provide leadership and not hide behind “the people demands this”.

This is not only about Government. Organizations like OUTA should also play a
constructive role and contribute to the development of socially responsible and inclusive policies. Their opposition to e-tolls should be debated and discussed openly and in a constructive manner. I call on OUTA to review its stance on this matter. Their stance is no longer in the best interest of the people of Gauteng.

(2) E-tolls and the Gautrain

The leadership of the ANC has been the driving force behind the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Scheme in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and beyond.

In all the documents, including Cabinet Memos, the relationship between the Freeway Improvement Scheme, Travel Demand Management (TDM) measures and the
Gautrain Rapid Rail Link (“the Gautrain”) are clearly spelt out. The leadership seems to be distancing itself from the very choices that it made during 2004/2005.

It is important not to deal with e-tolls in isolation. E-tolls are not only there to collect money and service the SANRAL debt. They are also part of a broader strategy to manage the increasing number of vehicles on our roads, which has proved costly and not sustainable. Public transport is a big part of the solution. It is safe, equitable and will ensure the Gauteng City Region works efficiently and deliver on its promise of a prosperous future.

The funding of the Gautrain is consistent with international best practice for rail projects. Government pays for the infrastructure and the private sector assumes operational risks of the system. However, in the case of South Africa, the risk of the project not gaining political support or generating the required number of passengers (patronage) was a major concern.

In the risk matrix that was developed for the Gautrain, this was allocated to the Government as a political risk. After all, this project that necessary and was in the best interest of the Province and its people.

There were many consultations between the Gauteng Provincial Government, the National Department of Transport and National Treasury in 2004/05 on how best to achieve the stated objectives, whilst ensuring that the Province does not make commitments that could impact negatively on its ability to deliver services, especially in regard to education, health and social welfare.

As stated above, the Province assumed certain risks in the Concession Agreement with the Bombela Consortium, embodied mainly in the form of a “Patronage Guarantee”. In simple terms, “Patronage Guarantee” simply means that when passenger numbers are below a certain (agreed) threshold, then Province steps in and pays Bombela so that it does not suffer “operational losses”.

There has to be an appreciation that at the heart of the strategy to make the Gautrain work, Government recognized the critical importance of reducing private car-use and emissions through various TDM measures, including e-tolling to push more and more commuters to park their vehicles and use the Gautrain.

Of course, passengers were not being forced but were to be attracted by the quality of the Gautrain service as well as the favourable cost compared to operating a private vehicle on the Freeway. Therefore, the success of the Gautrain is to a large extent dependent on the quality of its service but also on the performance of the Province in implementing TDM measures on the roadside, e-tolls and other public transport interventions.

The “Patronage Guarantee” is part of the risks assumed by the Province in the Concession Agreement. The leadership should explain to the people why this is necessary, how much has the Province spent on the “Patronage Guarantee” since the Gautrain commenced its operations and publish the names of the shareholders and beneficiaries in this regard.

Transparency is an integral part of our democracy. I am arguing in essence that the ANC in Gauteng cannot call for the scrapping of e-tolls without at the same time undoing the “financial arrangements” for the Gautrain. If the ANC feels strongly that conditions had changed and there is no longer the need for various strategies on the freeways to support the Gautrain, and the two could compete, then the “Patronage Guarantee” should equally be reviewed.

I am further arguing that if e-tolls are scrapped without the Gautrain “financial arrangements” being equally reviewed, this will leave Gauteng citizens worse-off.

The shareholders of Bombela will be the main beneficiaries of the scrapping of e-tolls, which could result in the decrease in passenger numbers using the Gautrain, requiring the Gauteng Government to pump more money into the Gautrain in the form of a “Patronage Guarantee”, except that this time the Province will be subsiding a reduced number of Gautrain passengers compared to the time when e-tolls were in place.

(3) Integration between Gautrain and the broader Public Transport Network When the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link was implemented, there was agreement between he National and Provincial Government that the Gautrain will be integrated with the entire Gauteng public transport network.

Some level of integration was achieved at Park Station, Rhodesfield and Pretoria Stations. The introduction of the BRTs in Johannesburg and Tshwane had further contributed to the level of integration between Gautrain and other public transport modes.

The Gautrain was designed primarily to meet the travel demands of commuters in the East of Tshwane and North of Johannesburg. Townships were not an integral part of the original plan. There was a commitment to link Gautrain with Metrorail services and municipal bus services (Metrobus), but this has not worked as anticipated.

We are told that conditions had changed. We seem to be living in the era of reviewing and cancelling contracts such as the e-toll contract; clearly, the contract for the Gautrain bus service should equally be reviewed. It has not worked optimally and is not integrated with the rest of public transport services. We see the Gautrain buses moving empty everyday.
Gauteng developed its 25-year Transport Masterplan.

This is a visionary statement and a bold plan that many of us participated in its development. It envisages an integrated transport network for Gauteng. However, we are now hearing more about the expansion of the Gautrain than creating an integrated public transport network for the Gauteng City Region. It would appear that those who build the Gautrain and the capacity they created, are now “hungry” for their next project.

They seek to expand the Gautrain at all cost, even in corridors where it makes no financial sense or where it is better and effective to enhance the capacity or reach of Metrorail services.

PRASA has not only committed to buying new, modern commuter trains but these are being delivered and already being tested in the commuter network. Last Thursday, President Ramaphosa opened the train factory in Dunnotar, Nigel that is building modern commuter trains for Metrorail with safety, passenger comfort, efficiency, passenger communications standards equivalent to the Gautrain.

It does not make sense to expand the Gautrain everywhere at a huge cost when the most affordable and accessible options are available. We need to ask why pursue such expensive and unaffordable options?

Despite talk of integration, there seems to be a strong desire to continue with the Gautrain as a stand-alone system. That will come at a huge cost to the public purse. There will no doubt be a “push” for another “Patronage Guarantee” for another 15 years if such manoeuvres are allowed to succeed.

We should ask who stands to benefit from all of this? The Provincial Government should be held accountable and must implement public transport projects in line with the letter and spirt of its Transport Masterplan.

What is to be Done?

There is a number of practical, strategic interventions to be considered by the Provincial Government, with the support of the National Department of Transport:

(1) When e-tolls are scrapped, “Financial Arrangements” that underpin the Gautrain should also be reviewed, especially the “Patronage Guarantee” with the view to use the funds (estimated at between R600 million and R1 billion per annum) to support the implementation of an integrated public transport network for the Gauteng City Network.

This will be a subsidy that benefits as many commuters in Gauteng as possible, including those using taxis and Metrobus services.

(2) With the introduction of new trains for Metrorail, better integration of Gautrain with certain Metrorail train services be explored, with commuters using the Gautrain ticket on both services. This will allow easy travel for especially Metrorail Business Express and Metroplus services from SOWETO, East Rand and Tshwane to easily access the Gautrain at Park Station, Rhodesfield and Pretoria Station, without increasing travel costs for these passengers.

(3) introduction of special services during the off-peak period, with pensioners, the physically-disabled and learners benefitting from such services between Metrorail and Gautrain;

(4) Phasing out of the stand-alone Gautrain bus service and its integration with the Tshwane and Johannesburg Metrobus, BRTs as well as contracted (scheduled) taxi services.

It is now possible to schedule dedicated Metrobus services to fit into both Gautrain and Metrorail stations. The new bus fleet deployed by the City of Tshwane in areas like Mamelodi looks extremely good and comfortable. I am proud of the new bus services where our parents, our brothers and sisters travel in safety and comfort. This demonstrates that it is possible to deliver quality public transport services in Gauteng.

(4) Integration of public transport schedules, starting with subsidized services and integrating with taxi services in the future.

(5) Integrated ticketing solution for public transport across the Province; piloting this between Gautrain, Metrorail and subsidized bus services;

(6) Develop a single brand for all public transport (PT) within Gauteng. We could learn from the City of Cape Town where former Councillor Brett Herron and his team under the leadership of Melissa Whitehead, supported by the former Executive Mayor Patricia De Lille, championed the PT brand under “Transport for Cape Town” (“TCT”. This could be seen and found in almost all public transport terminals and facilities across the city; and

(7) Create a common Passenger Information platform, which should be readily available on-line as well as in all train stations, BRT stations, bus terminals and taxi ranks across the Province.

This is the public transport agenda that I believe Premier David Makhura and his Provincial Government should champion in the next five (5) ahead. Through these interventions, we will be laying the foundation of an Integrated Public Transport Network that benefits equally the people of Gauteng as a whole.