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Is South Africa’s latest strategic vision for land transport going to walk the talk?

Date
18 May 2023

ICE Fellow Marianne Vanderschuren asks whether the South African Land Transport Strategic Framework 2023-2028 will successfully turn policy into practice.

Is South Africa’s latest strategic vision for land transport going to walk the talk?
ICE Fellow Marianne Vanderschuren encourages everyone to use the most sustainable transport mode available and not leave change up to governments. Image credit: Shutterstock

Since the new government came into power in 1994, South Africa has seen a world-class constitution and many good policies and strategies emerge.

The 2009 National Land Transport Act empowers the transport minister to prepare a national land transport strategic framework (NLTSF) every five years. It guides strategic transport planning at all levels of government.

The latest version for the 2023-2028 period, published for comment in March, aims to create an “integrated and efficient land transport system” supporting sustainable growth, providing safe, accessible and inclusive transport, and preserving the environment.

The proposed policy has a strong vision. But many previous strategies and target areas have yet to be put in place.

Will this latest framework be able to turn policy into practice?

The transport status quo in South Africa

The draft framework concludes that the system in South Africa is “fragmented, inefficient, and not coping well with rapid urbanisation (from 40 million inhabitants in 1994 to almost 60 million in 2021)”.

It identifies the following challenges:

  • Over 50% of the population walk longer than 90 minutes to the closest healthcare facility.
  • The Department of Transport lacks leadership, with no transport professional at the helm.
  • The taxi industry is a dominant and destructively competitive presence in the public transport sector.
  • Fundamental issues at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) mean public transport users have few alternatives to walking or minibus taxis.
  • The many layers of government – national, provincial, and municipal – aren’t conducive to integrated planning.

The 2022 Infrastructure Report Card from the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) also highlights under-spending on maintenance and a need for more technical capacity in many local government agencies.

These issues don’t need another policy document to restate them. They need action to address them.

NLTSF goals

The overarching goals for the transport system in the next five years include:

  • development models for districts
  • integrated land use and transport planning
  • social inclusion and accessibility (including universal design for people with disabilities)
  • improved transport safety and personal security
  • reduced environmental impacts
  • the promotion of sustainable transport modes (formal and informal public transport, as well as non-motorised modes)
  • the introduction of green energies in transport

NLTSF strategic vision

Driving the NLTSF’s overarching vision is the need for an affordable transport system in South Africa that provides access to opportunities and considers sustainability, society, and the environment.

land transport philosophy dept for transport south africa
Land transport strategic philosophy. Image: Department of Transport (South Africa).

The strategic vision continues unpacking the key goals, describing a vision, strategic intent, objectives, and key performance areas (KPAs).

Example KPA: urban transport and smart cities

As an example, the KPAs for ‘urban transport and smart cities’ – one of the 13 strategic elements detailed in the NLTSF – are:

  • Improve the service quality and safety of public transport.
  • Improve access to main public transport modes by improving walking links, cycle networks, and full cycle implementation programmes.
  • Prioritise universal access to non-motorised transport.
  • Undertake a household travel survey every five years.
  • The descriptions in the draft framework are valid.

Identifying responsible stakeholders and ordering monitoring of the 42 KPAs should be enough to kickstart the transition of South Africa’s land transport system.

Reflection

The South African government has developed yet another convincing strategy document.

Concerns come, however, when reviewing the implementation section of the document: a mere 1.5-page section that includes no information on how KPAs will be executed and monitored.

Real change can only come with detailed measures. Combating the high traffic-related death rate in the country will take more than mentioning “the implementation of the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety”, as this has not worked before.

Having 230,000 stranded bus passengers because of unpaid subsidies is another sign of the extent of the challenges.

As is a recent media clip highlighting the unfit state of provincial, metropolitan, municipal, and rural roads.

The end of asset monitoring in many areas is a sad sign that South Africa needs not another fantastic strategy, but a detailed implementation plan that will turn the tide.

Given the severity of the situation, we can’t wait for the government to lead us. Every citizen has a role to play in choosing sustainable modes daily.

I also urge transport specialists in South Africa to mobilise and assist the government in moving towards implementation.


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  • Professor Marianne Vanderschuren, Professor in Transport Planning and Engineering at the University of Cape Town