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Transport woes must be addressed now to avoid future gridlock – Hill-Lewis

CAPE Town is geared to become a “truly massive global city of 10 million people – so it’s critical to ensure the City has a functional public transport system, Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis told the recent Mobility Summit.

Hill-Lewis was adamant the national government has failed to deliver a reliable rail service and the capability must be handed over to capable metros. The City would not rule out an intergovernmental dispute on passenger rail devolution and service standards.

“I suspect when the census comes out imminently, we’ll have crossed the 5 million person threshold. Within most of our lifetimes here in this room, Cape Town will double that number again.”

Hill-Lewis said the City of Cape Town was fully supportive of the position taken by the national cabinet in March 2022 that passenger rail, over time, should be devolved to “capable metros”, but which the transport ministry later contradicted. 

“Eighteen months have passed and not a single step forward has been taken in that policy decision – which is why we are actively trying to agitate and get government to engage us on how that process will unfold,” Hill-Lewis said.

Hill-Lewis said, following the implosion of passenger rail, the City of Cape Town has seen a huge increase in the number of people now making use of road-based transport, whether in private vehicles, minibus taxis or buses.

According to the City’s latest Comprehensive Integrated Transport Plan (CITP), “up to 58% of commuters use private vehicles to get to their destinations; 22% use minibus-taxis; 9% bus services such as the MyCiTi and GABS; 2% use rail – a shocking decline of 95% for the period 2012 – 2022; and nearly 10% walk.

“Just short of one million people used to use the trains five or six years ago, very few of whom (about 3,5%) use it today. That’s not how we’ll build a city of ten million people for the future or get them into work. We want to work collaboratively but we are also not prepared to accept being in the same position in five years’ time.”

Some low income households spend up to 43 percent of their monthly income on transport, Hill-Lewis added. “With more commuters relying on road-based transport, there’s more pressure on our road network, in terms of maintenance and with increased congestion, and the demand for more and bigger public transport interchanges to accommodate the growing number of buses and minibus-taxis. More heavy vehicles are using roads to move freight between cities and the harbours when this cargo could and should have been transported via rail. The impact of heavy vehicles on roads is well documented. 

“All these failures, on a national level, put immense strain on the City in terms of the budget and human resources needed to maintain our current road network and provide public transport infrastructure. “The most severe impact, however, is felt by commuters who are spending more money on travelling, and are stuck in congestion on a road network that’s under severe strain because passenger rail – the most cost-effective form of public transport – has imploded through mismanagement.

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