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Cities of the future: no cars allowed

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Cape Town is one of the most congested cities in South Africa due to narrow roads and limited public transport.

Joburg is expected to be home to 7 million people by 2040. The current congested state of the Gauteng freeways is a foretaste of what’s to come.

The 2019 City Mobility Index from Deloitte looks at what works and what doesn’t in terms of mobility in some 50 cities around the world.

Joburg is a young city, and only recently started to confront the realities of transporting millions of people. A city that was designed to move perhaps 2 million people is already having to cope with millions more than this. Cape Town is a few hundred years older and many of its narrow roads were designed for horse-drawn carts.

Things will have to change. For a start, less people will be able to drive by car. Some cities already impose taxes or levies on cars that travel to the highly congested city centre areas. SA has the benefit of being able to learn from their experience – good or bad.

Cities with high population densities such as London, Singapore, and Berlin scored highest on transportation performance. With more people funding systems that cover less ground, these cities get more bang for their buck. Cities with large geo­graphic areas, such as New York and Chicago, tend to do better within city limits but do not perform as well in their larger exo-urban areas. Joburg, spreading from Springs in the east to Krugersdorp in the west, is a transport planner’s nightmare.

Here’s some harsh realities from the Deloitte report: In Nairobi, pedestrians represent 65 percent of traffic fatalities. In the United States, that number is just 16 percent. Rail service in Jo­hannesburg is frequently canceled due to theft of overhead electrical cables. Developed countries are not immune. Rome, for example, has a well-developed transit network and is working to reduce vehicle emissions, yet its aging public buses caught fire as many as 20 times in 2017 alone. No surprise, then, that more than one-third of the consumers Deloitte surveyed in Rome rated their public transit system “poor” or “very poor” on the question of safety.

Without safe transportation options and a level playing field for all users—whether private sector providers or end consumers—city leaders will likely struggle to meet the mobility needs of their constituents, says Deloitte.

One of the problems all cities face is getting cooperation between regulators and transport providers. Will the minibus taxis be the preferred mode of transport for millions of South Africans into the future? Looking at the shocking road behaviour of many of these taxi drivers, the answer must be no.

The one thing that all trasnsport systems must ensure is public safety.

The City of Johannesburg has embarked upon its Spatial Development Framework 2040 to accommodate a population estimated to reach 7 million by 2040. Its goal is to build a compact, polycentric city (many centres, such as Rosebank and Sandton) with an urban core linked through efficient “Corridors of Freedom.” Due to a lack of reliable public transport, commuters now prefer unregulated minibus taxis, which handle last-mile connectivity but increase congestion.

To tackle its challenges, the City of Johannesburg is expanding its BRT system, improving its roads, and is taking steps to promote active modes of transportation. Ridesharing services could be promoted digitally to save costs and increase traction.

Efforts to increase multimodal, reliable and timely ecosystem mobility solutions will play a big role in supporting increased urbanisation.

Cape Town is one of the most congested cities in South Africa, largely due to unreliable public transport and narrow roads. To address this problem, the 2032 City Vision plans to integrate different modes of public transportation to form a seamless system.

The city will also invest in technologies to facilitate a convenient, secure, and cost-effective fare system that works across all modes.

Given the obvious challenges of moving millions of people, here’s one prediction: virtual commuting, lift sharing and far more efficient public transport are going to be the way of the future.

Anyone who has spent time in Accra, Ghana, or Lagos in Nigeria will know what pure road chaos looks like. It’s as if the planners have all but given up. Compare this with the freeway sin the US where the Hell’s Angels gangs on motorcycles file neatly in a row and stick to the speed limit.

Respect for the rules of the road is always a good index of overall public morality in a country. If SA is going to move in the direction of London, Singapore and the US, then an entire cultural shift will have to take place. When drivers feel nothing about tossing litter onto the street, or illegal electricity connections, then road behaviour will tend towards lawlessness (though South African road behaviour is far better than most places in Africa).  

Eventually, private cars are going to be forced off the major routes, either by taxation or legislation. Public transport systems will take over. Regulations on greenhouse gases will eventually retire the current generation of vehicles.

Your vehicle of the future will be electric and will be for suburban shopping or trips to the country. Inner city travel will be off the menu.