Minister Grant’s Policy Debate Speech on Budget Vote 35: Transport
- Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces
- Honourable Members and Office Bearers
- Delegates from the Provinces
- Distinguished Guests
- Ladies and Gentlemen
I have the honour of representing the Western Cape Provincial Parliament here in the National Council of Provinces on the occasion of the Policy Debate on Budget Vote 35: Transport.
As someone who just a year ago was a complete newcomer to the transport policy arena, I wish, at the outset, to place on record my thanks to Minister Peters for her willingness to make herself available to discuss matters of national transport importance as well as issues of specific importance to the Western Cape. Her co-operative and receptive stance is sincerely appreciated.
Chairperson, the importance of transport to both the economy of the country and the well-being of the people in South Africa cannot be overstated. In this regard South Africa is not unique. Recently, in a speech to the US Congress, the long-serving senior Democratic Congressman, Robert Brady, said:
“There can be no doubt that the transportation sector is the most critical sector of the economy”.
Not only is it often the key that unlocks the door to economic participation for millions of people, but it is also often the means which enables us to access certain rights and to exercise certain rights bestowed upon us by our Constitution. It is not by accident that public transport and certain other elements of transport are listed functional areas of concurrent national and provincial legislative competence in Schedule 4 to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. In a country still characterised by the many consequences of apartheid spatial planning and the on-going disparities between rural and urban areas it is crucial that people are able to move freely, safely and affordably so that they can access employment, educational and recreational opportunities. Without this the promise of a better life for too many people remains nothing other than a promise.
In this regard, there are two obvious considerations which have arisen for me in my relatively short time in my present portfolio. The first of these is an organisational and structural issue linked to the Department of Transport itself and relates to the high number of outside agencies upon which that department is dependent for the planning and delivery of core functions and aspects of its mandates. Earlier this year, at an official strategic planning session at national level, I was struck by the number of report back sessions on critical areas of the core mandate of this department which were led by people – often highly trained professionals – who are not employees of the department but who operate on a day to day basis at some distance from the department in structures which are legal entities in their own right. This defused control over core functions must be problematic in what is a complex and technical department.
In the same way rail transport – which has to be at the heart of a sustainable mass transport system – suffers from a similar disjointedness with control spread, from a Western Cape point of view, through Metrorail, Prasa and Transnet. My Ministry has a very constructive working relationship with Metrorail and we meet regularly with the senior management in order to assist where we can with matters impacting on this crucial service. However, real decisions about budgets, capital investment and maintenance costs lie outside our reach.
The second consideration which emerges from the existing concurrency arrangement is the importance of the various spheres of government to work together in order to deliver on efficient services. In her budget speech on 5 May of this year, Minister Peters twice referred to transport developments in relation to George in the Western Cape in the context of funding which her department had made available. This is correct and is acknowledged with gratitude.
However, Chairperson, while we all understand the fundamental importance of the funding the George Integrated Public Transport Network [the GIPTN] is much more than an exercise in applying funds to a problem. It is, in fact, a precedent setting model for the provision of transport services aimed at developing an affordable emerging city model which meets the requirements of the National Land Transport Act and which becomes a replicable approach for non-metros and for rural areas. The national Department of Transport’s Land Transport Strategy has been applied to local conditions and, as a result, George is the first city outside the big 12 to be allocated national grant funding and received this funding in 2013/14 although the planning for a transport system goes back to 2005.
George previously had no formal scheduled bus service and existing public transport remained too expensive for a large number of the population. In fact the majority of commuters walked long distances [nearly 4 km one way] in all weathers. As a result the area experienced an abnormally high pedestrian fatality rate.
From an institutional perspective the process has involved:
- All three spheres of government working together closely.
- The entire minibus taxi and the small bus industry from George.
- The wider George community and the users of public transport.
- Various specialist private sector service providers.
My own department has worked tirelessly in playing its important co-ordination and leadership role in ensuring that the multitude of technical challenges could be overcome. Our experience has shown that the desired success can be achieved on the basis of four crucial elements, as follows:
- A government with the financial, human and institutional capacity required to manage the various contractual relationships needed for a successful transport network. This includes the specific agreements entered into between the WC Government and the George Municipality at both a financial and an operational level
- A functional operator formed from existing members of the public transport industry in George
- Adequate infrastructure, including additional suitable vehicles and road, traffic and sidewalk facilities. This will accommodate people with disabilities
- Financial sustainability which implies – on the basis of international experience – continued support from appropriate levels of government
Chairperson, the fact that this new network is on course to be officially opened in the final quarter of this year speaks volumes for inter-governmental co-operation and a clear understanding of the importance of political leadership which respects the massive technical and professional planning which ultimately underpins a successful, sustainable public transport network. The WC Government is pleased to have played the role which it has along with Minister Peters’ Department of Transport and the George Municipality. This can only better the lives of our citizens.