Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Joburg-Durban high-speed train concept testing next month

There was no doubt that this project will not receive its attention when Sbu Ndebele, the minister of Transport announced about the planned Durban - Joburg fast train. Yesterday, he announced that the process of testing the market will start in October, which I am not sure whether this involves a thorough feasibility Study or if its just a pre-feasibility study.

Read more about the story from Engineering News below;

The process of testing the market for a high speed rail linking Durban and Johannesburg will start next month, Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele announced on Monday.

"By next month, we will commence with the dual process of concept development and testing the market for a period of six months," said Ndebele at the launch of transport month at Bridge City in Durban.

The construction of a multibillion-rand high-speed rail link between Durban and Johannesburg would cut transport times dramatically.

The department had also identified Johannesburg to Cape Town, and Johannesburg to Musina high-speed rail projects.

Ndebele said his department believed concept development and testing the market for the Johannesburg to Durban rail project would not take more than six months.

He said the project was crucial because the Durban-Gauteng corridor was the busiest in the southern hemisphere, both in value and tonnage.

"It forms South Africa's freight transportation network. It is also vital in facilitating economic growth for the country, region and the African continent."

Ndebele was speaking during the official opening of a R350-million underground rail station which would serve 40 000 commuters a day. The station was under the recently opened R750-million Bridge City shopping centre.

Ndebele described rail as the department of transport's pillar to moving to safer roads and reducing road crashes.

"Rail is also a key part of our plans to move both our freight and passengers from road to rail. The strategy does not mean that we are moving towards a country with no cars and roads."

Most of South Africa's commuter rail systems had reached the end of their lifespan, Ndebele said.

"We believe that introducing new rail stock and technology is an absolute necessity and will protect our historical investment in the sector."

He said South Africa had invested R40-billion in passenger rail infrastructure and services. This included the R25-billion spent on the Gautrain project, South Africa's first high speed train.

Ndebele said the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), which operated the Metrorail commuter service, had also identified the need for recapitalisation of its rolling stock fleet over the next 18 years, at an estimated cost of R95-billion.


Enter DNA Economics - Vehicle Emission Tax Debate goes on

You may be familiar with the Business Day vehicle emission tax debate as I posted here and here. The latest defender of the tax is no other than Mr. Brent Cloete whose article appeared yesterday on Business Day. He argues that the tax is a good start even though we do not have cleaner fuels in South Africa. You can read his articles below or here. What I also learned is that double cabs are not yet being charged this tax but will be charged next year in March.

Carbon tax on cars is a good start

The tax applies to domestic sales of new passenger cars and is levied at R75 (before VAT) for every gram of CO² emitted per kilometre driven above a threshold of 120g/km.

SA’s new carbon dioxide (CO² ) emissions tax aims to encourage the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles. The tax applies to domestic sales of new passenger cars and is levied at R75 (before VAT) for every gram of CO² emitted per kilometre driven above a threshold of 120g/km. The tax will be extended to double-cabs in March (at R100 for every gram per kilogram above 175g/km) and other light commercial vehicles will follow. Minibus taxis may be included in future.

The Treasury is also considering the use of annual vehicle licence fees, differentiated by emissions levels, and higher fuel levies to give people an incentive to switch to more fuel- efficient cars.

It has been argued this tax is unfair. It requires consumers to pay indirectly for transport carbon emission without extensive public transport alternatives. There are also few truly fuel- efficient vehicles available locally (only two models fall below the threshold) since sufficient quality fuel to use the latest technologies is not available in SA, and is unlikely to be for years .

Further , the tax threshold is lower than in the UK (165g/km) and France (155g/km), where modern fuel alternatives are available. It has also been argued that the tax may be ineffectual. An average price increase of 2%-4% is unlikely to have a significant effect on purchasing decisions in the long term, and is much smaller than the 27% import tariff on motor vehicles that consumers already bear.

The tax also doesn’t give people an incentive to drive less or in a more fuel- efficient way, whereas an increased fuel tax would. Consequently, many commentators view the tax as a revenue-generating instrument masquerading as an environmental tax.

These criticisms are overstated. While it would have been much better to co-ordinate tax changes with improvements in fuel technology and public transport, it is hardly within the Treasury’s ambit to enact fuel quality standards and drive buses.

The government has chosen an ambitious emissions trajectory, pursuing targets in the Copenhagen Accord. To remain on this trajectory climate policies must be adopted early and include carbon taxes. Waiting for fuel and public transport improvements would have put SA behind the climate change policy curve.

The Treasury should be applauded for taking a leading role in fighting climate change. Although the tax isn’t large enough to change consumer behaviour directly, it will make consumers aware of the climate change implications of vehicle purchases — and the possibility that decisions now could have repercussions if an additional fuel levy or differentiated annual licence fee is introduced.

It may, however, have been wise to start with a higher threshold that moved down over time as more fuel- efficient cars became available locally. This would have given consumers more opportunity to avoid the tax, thereby allaying fairness concerns and reducing the impression that the tax is mainly aimed at raising revenue.

Finally, it is important to note that this new tax simply aims to reduce vehicle emissions. The Treasury is considering a broad-based carbon tax that will increase the price of products that are carbon-intensive to produce, like cars. If implemented as a tax on coal, which seems likely, it may also increase the cost of fuel (23% of local fuel is produced from coal-to-liquid technology). The emissions tax is thus just one component in a suite of policy instruments that will be required to reduce SA’s greenhouse gas emissions.

For the government’s efforts on climate change to work, it is critical South Africans respond appropriately. It is therefore disappointing that the Treasury’s discussion document on the use of carbon taxes, and the green paper on climate change by the Department of Environmental Affairs, were not finalised before the vehicle emissions tax was implemented. A clear indication of future policy will enable consumers and producers to adjust their behaviour pre-emptively, making current policies more effective. It would also help to allay feelings of being “caught out” by changes such as the “surprise” introduction of the CO² vehicle emissions tax.

- Cloete is an economist at DNA Economics, an economics consulting firm, and leads the company’s climate change practice

Monday, September 27, 2010

Gautrain marks 1 million passengers - a success or failure?

Last Wednesday, 22 September 2010 Gautrain reached its 1 million passengers mark since its inception few days before the FIFA World Cup. According to Gautrain, the milestone coincided almost exactly with 100 days of operation. It is not known if the 1 million is based on the number of passengers who made use of the train or the number of tickets bought. If it is the latter, then it should be a concern because we all know that not everyone who buys a ticket to the movies do not necessarily watch the movie.

Now, lets check how many people were transported (average) in each day the trains operated;

1 million/100 days = 10 000 average passengers per day. As expected, most of the passengers were carried during the World Cup when 400 000 passengers were carried between OR Tambo and Sandton in its first month. This translates to 13 000 average passengers carried per day in the first month.

With international trains carrying more passengers than what Gautrain is carrying currently, can this be considered to be a failure? Considering that it was estimated that 104 000 passengers per day will be carried and the link between Hatfield to Malboro and from Braamfontein to Sandton City is not yet operational, then one should not be quick to think that. Assuming that the average 10 000 passengers carried currently remains, the questions to be raised is whether the remaining lines will carry the remaining 94 000 passengers.

For now, I can not tell and we will have to wait until the line is built. But a quick guess tells me that the 94 000 passengers will be hard to be achieved. Here are the reasons why I think so;
  • First, most South Africans just love being in their cars, so convincing them to get out of them to shared seats will be a mountain to climb even when roads are going to be tolled;
  • I am not sure how many people get sponsored by the companies via car subsidies, but those who are will not leave their cars as new toll roads will be easily be absorbed;
  • For those who will be burdened by toll roads will find alternative routes to avoid the toll roads - which lead to more damaged local roads (what are the local authority planning to do about this is not known) - see map below;

But like I said before, one should wait for April 2011 (note: Gautrain's website list the operational date as 06/2011), when the second phase of the Gautrain is completed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

World Carfree Day is Tomorrow

Car free day in Bogota, Columbia circa 2007. Photo by themikebot.

Carfree day in Bogota, Colombia circa 2007. Photo by themikebot.

Given that tomorrow, September 22, is World Carfree Day, we thought we’d share a bit of the most exciting events happening around the world. You can find a full list of events on the World Carfree wiki page. For a history of World Carfree Day, visit the World Streets Blog.

Some highlights by location:

Friday, September 17, 2010

All drivers should undergo First Aid Training - Many lives will be saved.

In the previous entry, I argued that it should not only be a prerequisite for taxi drivers to undergo extensive training courses but all public transport drivers. After experiencing an accident in a bus and seeing a bus driver being helpless while we were waiting for an ambulance, I asked myself why can't it be a prerequisite for every driver to have first aid training. I then quickly went to the net and Googled "First Aid and drivers" in South Africa and alas, there were very few results on the topic, including an article about taxi marshals/drivers who took training back in 2008. This is what one of the drivers had to say;

“The skills I learned are invaluable and there is a definite need for more drivers to be trained in First Aid"

I agree. With ambulances response time (government ambulances) not up to scratch, the driver can make a difference to those who are injured while waiting for an ambulance. In fact, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is calling for countries to enforce first aid training as a pre-requisite for acquiring a driving license. A number of European countries such as Germany and Bosnia and Herzegovina requires perspective drivers to hold a first aid certificate or must have completed some form of first aid training before a license is granted (Page 9). In Africa, Ghana is the first country to announce such a move with the aim of reducing deaths through accidents by equipping drivers with the basic first aid skills to enable them to attend to road accident victims.

With car ownership going to increase year after year, its makes sense to ensure that every driver has a know how of to save lives/reduce deaths. To conclude, the European Council said the following about first aid;

"Improving the effectiveness of that aid (first aid) is one of the factors which has helped to reduce the number of road deaths"

Photo Courtesy of ER24

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ensure that all Public Transport Drivers are rigorously trained, not just only Taxi Drivers.

Some years back, Afriforum compiled a report on Taxis (Mini-Bus Taxis/Midi-Bus Taxis) after the death of a young girl, Bernadine Kruger who was cycling to school in Pretoria when a Mamelodi - Pretoria taxi knocked her off. I read the report which you can find here. At the end of the report, they published some letters from the readers who shared their experiences with taxis. One of the letter caught my eye (see below). I wonder if their report was ever read by the National Department of Transport (DoT), but a year on after the report, 10 scholars were killed in a train crossing in Cape Town after the mini-bus taxi they were travelling in crashed with the train - the taxi has failed to stop for the train to pass.

Yesterday, the DoT reported to parliament portfolio committee on transport that their National Scholar Transport Policy is on hold because there has been some disagreement between them and the Department of Education on which department is suppose to be responsible. This is sad, considering that millions of scholars work for long distances to school putting their life into risk as they either travel alone or on highways or making use of LDVs. Worse is the fact that the DoT's work on Scholar Transport is short of details ( as reported on E-TV). MPs also want drivers who transport pupils to be properly trained. But why don't we apply this training to all public transport drivers as recommended by a certain reader by the name of Morne?

Here is what he proposed;

We cannot be unrealistic and campaign to remove taxis from our roads, because the fact remains that they do serve a critical function of providing transport to millions of South Africans every day. Without transport people would be stuck, and it will bring productivity to a standstill in South Africa if the workforce cannot get to work. But drivers need to be controlled. So here is an idea: the biggest problem is just that any person who can sort of drive, or has enough contacts to either buy a licence or a minibus, can just become a taxi driver. If I buy a truck or a bus today, I cannot just become a truck/bus driver, I need to write and pass a special licensing exam. The taxi industry should be controlled much more efficiently in the same fashion.

They are after all responsible for the lives of the people that they transport, not so? For instance: if you want to become a taxi driver, in addition to your normal driver’s licence, you should also have a special taxi licence. To obtain this licence, you must first pass an advanced driving course, and write a rigorous exam on the rules of the road, and get tested thoroughly on it. Then, and only then, if you passed these criteria, will you be issued with a taxi licence. And you should only be able to buy a minibus if you already have the abovementioned licences, like when you want to buy a new TV and need to produce a TV licence first. Taxi drivers should also be forced to have their taxis checked for roadworthiness at least every quarter, and for this you get a stamp, like a servicing stamp. They should also have a refresher driving course every two years or so. And then of course there is the policing. If you are a taxi driver, and you are caught committing a traffic offence, or without the taxi licence, or proof of recent roadworthy checks, you should be fined heavily, and “marked” on the traffic system.

You then get 30 days to get your stuff in order. If you are caught again, your taxi is impounded and your taxi licence removed, and only when you have complied with all of the requirements all over again, and paid another fine, can you get your taxi back. Normal traffic offence fines for taxis should be higher than for other motorists, especially if you have passengers when you are caught, because you are endangering innocent people's lives. If we can better regulate, and properly train and police our minibus taxis, making them safe and trustworthy to use, we will have a fantastic ready-made public transport system that is different from anywhere in the first world. A public transport system that actually collects and drops you at your door. Imagine how fantastic that would have been for 2010!

If this is done without fear while bribes are not been taken by traffic officers (it is possible), then we will have a safer public transport for all. Not every Tom, Dick and Harry should just be allowed to drive passenger just because they have a license.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pretoria Bus Routes Maps

This is the map City of Tshwane Bus Routes that I am designing together with a friend using their bus timetables. I hope we finish this by end of October. This came after realizing that the City don't have their transit map for either their buses or any other mode of transport. If successful, we will do the same for the City of Johannesburg. Wish us luck all.

Gautrain should sort its problems fast........

It has only being operating for two months but already its workers have striked twice. First it was the bus drivers employed by Mega express, a company contracted to ferry Gautrain passengers who took in an illegal strike a month back and now the customer services personnel have joined them (though reports states that its not all stations affected). Why is this the case? Is it because the parties behind the project were so focused on ensuring that the project is completed before the World Cup and left everything to do with employees was left to take care of itself?

With South Africans having given up on the government to stop public public disruption when there are strikes in SA, this may not go well with future Gautrain passengers users. It is for this reason I call the Bombela Concession Company to negotiate with their workers to reach a lasting agreement if we are to see a successful Gautrain. After all, it is in everyone's interest.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Durban - Johannesburg High Speed Train: Vested interests should be guarded against

I am excited that a project that I was part of , first while at Namela Projects (now called Namela Consultants) and secondly while here at Ingerop South Africa is about to be implemented - The National Transport Master Plan (NATMAP) 2050 project commissioned by the National Department of Transport. The first thing that was announced which was part of the NATMAP 2050 is the high speed rail line between Johannesburg and Durban (which I think is unnecessary). Secondly, it was announced yesterday that passenger rail lines will be refurbished in the next 20 years.

Besides the Moloto Rail Line which has been moving in a slow pace, what seems to be an urgent project to the Department is the Joburg - Durban high speed train;

The "concept framework" for the Johannesburg-Durban speed rail would be completed by the end of the current financial year, March 2011.

Besides the project being unnecessary, I ask the merit of starting with the project when we still don't have a complete rail policy and an independent rail regulator. Are we not putting the cart before the horse? Shouldn't we first know how we want our rail system to be like before we build high speed rails which may become white elephants because of vested interests? And what about the National Planning Commission's input, seeing that they have to plan for the country? Such a commission can be a good guardian against vested interests as we saw with the Gautrain, especially when it is independent.

And what about Mr. Setuma's statement when he said;

“The biggest cost of the Gautrain was property reclamation. That does not apply to this project,”

The Mail and Guardian quotes him well;

Situma claimed the largest costs of building the Gautrain were land acquisition and tunnelling. Neither would be a factor in developing the rail service

This is contrast to what the President of the South African Road Freight Federation (SARF), Mutshutshu Nxumalo who said the folllowing;

"Although high-speed rail links have proven effective in other parts of the world, they have all been prone to intensive teething problems, and in most cases, considerable cost overruns.

"In addition, planners on the Johannesburg-Durban link will be faced with logistical challenges which are bound to add to the cost of the project," he said.

Not least of these was the fact that a high-speed rail link ran on a wider 1435mm rail gauge as opposed to South Africa's traditional narrow 1067mm gauge.

This meant that not only would new rolling stock have to be purchased, but it would have to be dedicated exclusively to the rail link.

"Secondly, there is the considerable difference in altitude between the two cities to consider."

Now, you may ask yourself who is talking the truth but we can only know once the feasibilities studies are done. But for now, the news coming from the conference is that many people are against the project.