Inequality and Economic Inclusion

Transport and the Urban Poor

  • Year: 2008
  • Organisation: TIPS
  • Publication Author(s): Mathetha Mokonyama For Urban LandMark
  • Countries and Regions: South Africa

The aim of the paper is to articulate necessary state interventions to improve transport services for the urban poor in South Africa. The paper forms part of a larger study intended to inform a strategic response to the challenges of the “second economy” in the South African urban areas. The definition of the “second economy” is defined more elaborately in other papers in this series of papers. Simply, however, the second economy, in contrast to the first economy, forms part of the South African population whose households are collectively characterised by low skilled labour and high unemployment rates as a result of mismatch between skills they possess and those required by the economy.

Urban areas within the context of the paper refer to both metropolitan and urban areas defined spatially by Statistics South Africa (making up 65% of households and 59% of the population in 2003), and as implemented in the 2003 National Household Travel Survey conducted by the Department of Transport in association with Statistics South Africa. Indications are that South African population is rapidly urbanising and at the same time the household size is declining. From a transport perspective this is basically indicative of the large strain that urban transport systems are increasingly experiencing, where an increase in the number of small sized households implies that per capita travel demand is likely to be on the increase. As a result, transport network congestion is likely to be on the increase, and it can be shown that congestion impacts on poorer households the more severely as a result of increased generalised costs of travel.

With specific reference to the urban areas of South Africa, the paper attempts to address the following terms of reference, in which the author was requested to provide:

  • A well argued position on transport approaches at local level that will enhance the access of the poor to income generating opportunity. 
  • A well argued position on the financing options available and the proposed way forward on financing/subsiding transportation costs. 
  • A well argued position on the potential impact of transit oriented land use development in South Africa and how this might be achieved (or not). 
  • A set of key state interventions that should be implemented in the transport sector in order to enhance economic opportunities for the urban poor. 
  • A well argued position on governance/responsibilities for the transport sector.  The paper is to be limited to the synthesis of readily available data and information.

The 1996 White Paper on National Transport Policy remains the backbone of transport policy in the country, and therefore provides a good point of departure. Some of the interesting features of the White paper are the explicit policy targets that include: limiting one-way travel distance/time to 40 km or one hour, a ratio of 80:20 between public transport and private car usage, limiting commuter spending on transport to less than about 10 percent of disposable income and limiting walking distances to one kilometre in urban areas. While the White Paper has these bold policy targets, it does not explicitly deal with the issue of poverty. The White Paper has subsequently been translated in numerous transport legislations, and some researchers have argued that by virtue of making fundamental interventions and improvements in the land-based transport industry, the National Land vi Transport Transition Act (one of the White Paper derivatives) will ameliorate urban poverty in respect of the following:

  • Improved service delivery through the introduction of the transport authority model (where viable), with dedicated transport service delivery function and associated political accountability structures and matching dedicated funding. 
  • Mandatory transport plans required in terms of the Act would for the first time guide systematic transport service delivery in local government. The formulation of such plans requires public participation prior to adoption. 
  • The formalisation and legalisation of the minibus taxi industry would improve service levels for the urban poor. Furthermore, the introduction of new vehicle specification would improve safety levels in the industry. 
  • Competitive tendering process that requires operators to compete for the right to operate a subsidised route would ensure cost-effective services for the urban poor. 
  • New provisions on integrated public transport law enforcement would improve the levels of safety for public transport.

In the urban areas of South Africa, and in line with the provisions of the National Land Transport Transition Act, local authorities are required to produce Integrated Transport Plans (ITPs). ITPs are to be used as transport-related service delivery instruments and are in turn supposed to be incorporated into the Integrated Development Plan of the authority. Any transport interventions in the area of jurisdiction of the local authority must be informed by the ITP, and conversely, the authority should not allow any transport related intervention if it is not part of its ITP. Therefore, ITPs remain a powerful instrument that should be used by the local authorities for poverty eradication. This includes ensuring that the design and operation of transport facilities allow for effective incorporation of small businesses (trading facilities) and increased employment (for example infrastructure and vehicle maintenance activities). However, in order to achieve this, more innovative contracting regimes, and the generation of more revenue streams, are needed to facilitate more effective business models.