Tuesday, 30 March 2021 10:03

Staff Reporter.

Today, Mayors and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) are calling on the national government to provide reliable and consistent operational subsidies to public transport networks to safeguard the health of workers and passengers, create decent jobs, build an environmentally sustainable transport network, and drive economic recovery in the face of COVID-19. 

The call for action forms part of The Future is Public Transport campaign, a global initiative launched today by mayors, transport unions, workers and passengers to highlight the importance of public transport to an equitable and environmentally sustainable COVID-19 recovery within cities across the globe. 

While subsidies to the South African bus and train network presently exist, recent reports suggest that these modes of transport account for only 23.6% and 9.9% of commuter transport, respectively. The minibus taxi industry,  which is responsible for 66.5% of commuter travel, is said to provide an estimated 15 million commuters per day with public transport. Yet, the minibus taxi industry does not currently receive an operational subsidy only receiving 1% of total subsidies in the form of taxi recapitalisations.

Now more than ever, public transport (including the minibus taxi industry) serves as a lifeline for the most vulnerable residents - including low-income communities, isolated elderly people, women and caregivers and those living in informal settlements. These residents cannot work from home and rely on public transport services in order to survive.

The introduction of a reliable and consistent operational subsidy would lay the groundwork for:

  • safer COVID-19 measures to protect operators and commuters alike;
  • a more affordable transport system for commuters through centralised fare collections integrating costs across multiple trips;
  • support to shift towards cleaner, greener technologies; 
  • ensuring greater access to services and economic opportunities; and 
  • Generating decent jobs for informal and formal workers.

A reliable and consistent operational subsidy would align with the national government's own plan to achieve long-term sustainability within the sector through formalisation and subsidisation. The subsidy would also provide a meaningful buffer against future industry shocks arising from decreases in readership due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

By ensuring safe service levels are maintained, the public transport network will stand at the ready to get cities' economies moving again. Inaction poses risks to the livelihoods of 650,000 drivers, marshals and informal traders who face unemployment from the unchecked impact of COVID-19 on public transport systems.

To build resilient cities capable of withstanding the social, health and economic impacts of COVID-19 today and of climate change in the future, we must accelerate investment in new and environmentally sustainable transport infrastructure now. This investment will help deliver new, decent jobs and set South Africa firmly on a path to cut emissions. 

Research shows the employment potential of sustainable transport. Investment in transit infrastructure may generate 30% more jobs than building roads, while green investments in the transport sector could generate over 4.6 million jobs globally by 2030 including over 61,000 future jobs in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Ekhurhuleni and Tshwane. At a time of mass unemployment and economic hardship in many parts of the world, generating jobs now will benefit millions of families. More so, there is no reason why South African cities need to be left behind. 

Beyond the jobs directly related to the provision of transit services, safer and more affordable public transport can reduce the cost of doing business in cities. It gives employers access to a larger pool of potential employees, increasing the chances they can find the skills they need. It contributes to managing traffic congestion, improves air quality due to fewer commuters relying on private vehicles, and reduces the costs of transporting people and goods. 

With the looming threat of yet another rise in COVID-19 infections, we need to start looking at the best ways to adapt and future proof our cities to the health and climate crises and increase the resilience of critical public services and infrastructure.

Mayor Makhubo said, "As the government, we are committed to partnering with all stakeholders to ensure investments in the transport sector positions Johannesburg as the hub of a social and economic recovery that leaves none of our residents behind. Access to safe and affordable public transport must be leveraged to drive investment in a sustainable future for all."

"Our vision for Tshwane is that of a city generating jobs for all, where people live in healthy, resilient and equitable communities supported by a sustainable environment. This can only be achieved through an affordable, sustainable, efficient and safe mass transit system," said Executive Mayor Williams.

"Building resilient cities which support the health, social and economic needs of our residents is front and centre of our work as a city. To protect all people, we cannot allow a return to 'business as usual.' Through a reliable operational subsidy, our public transport system can be a catalyst for building said resilience," Mayor Kaunda.

SATAWU national spokesperson, Solomon Mahlangu said, "To keep our air clean and prioritise the health of city residents, the national government must provide a subsidy to make our public transport system integrated, safe, sustainable and resilient to future crises. Essential workers are not just doctors and nurses. Public transport workers deserve secure formal jobs with decent terms and conditions."