Public transport neglected: The Herald opinion

NELSON Mandela Bay’s economy will continue to flounder and more jobs will be lost if nothing is done to introduce a world-class public transport system in our metro.

Catching a taxi from Kwazakhele to Korsten, then again on to Motherwell has confirmed my concerns about the impact that our sub-standard public transport system is having on the economy and on access to opportunities.

October is supposed to be Transport Month, which proposes that “together we move South Africa forward”. Apart from sounding a lot like a familiar political party tagline, I’m yet to see how this government is moving the people of Nelson Mandela Bay forward at all.

Taxis remain the most reliable form of transport, despite little or no help from the metro. Without these taxi operations our people would be all but permanently stranded.

However, many residents find taxis unaffordable with a return trip from Kwazakhele to Korsten costing R22. A daily commute of this nature would cost well more than R600 a month – more than some people earn in a week.

The Algoa Bus Company spends more time fighting with its drivers than it does delivering people to destinations. This service continues to be marred by controversy and infighting, which regularly leaves thousands of passengers stranded.

The IPTS project, which was meant to be a world class public transport service, has instead become one of South Africa’s most embarrassing bungles. Billions of rand have been spent and not a single bus is on our roads.

I visited the bus “graveyard” just last week and saw firsthand the catastrophe that is 25 unused buses literally wasting away, with no solution in sight. In the interest of growing the economy and creating jobs, the DA will table a motion in the metro council asking for the utilisation of the IPTS buses on main arterial routes on which there is more than enough space for the large vehicles to operate.

While the municipality gloats about the “cost saving” golden handshake paid to former city manager Mpilo Mbambisa, the excessive IPTS wastage goes unaccounted for. It is totally ludicrous to define a million rand golden handshake as “cost saving” when it is paid to the man who allegedly wasted billions of taxpayers’ money on an IPTS project that doesn’t work. The only actual cost saving exercise would be to recoup the lost billions, which only the DA seems determined to achieve. A total of R10.4-million has now been lost to the people of Nelson Mandela Bay in these wasteful payouts to city managers over the last few years.

This amount of money could have built more than 80 RDP houses. These millions and millions of rand could have replaced more than 650 of the 3 000 bucket toilets in Walmer Township with dignified flush toilets

The ability for a person to earn money is decided by whether they can be at their place of work or not. Unfairly, our residents are at the mercy of this transport system.

When it fails, they don’t get to work, they don’t earn the day’s wage and they go to bed hungry. Furthermore, our industry and commercial sectors almost grind to a halt, with the only staff present being those who are fortunate enough to own private vehicles.

This directly precludes access to opportunity and destroys jobs.

As the council continues to draw on the municipality’s limited liquidity to fund golden handshakes and doomed projects, the economy suffers, as I saw firsthand.

Careful spending by the government, where tangible outcomes benefit the people and jobs are created, must be non-negotiable. This ongoing wasteful and inexplicable expenditure has to stop.

A functional public transport system creates economic opportunities and promotes the freedom of movement. Adequate public transport provision helps make cities more inclusive, dynamic and competitive, as well as creating more jobs.

Our public transport system in Nelson Mandela Bay achieves none of this. It is a catastrophe, marred by corruption and plagued by inadequacy.

The opportunity cost of this deficient system is hurting our economy and destroying jobs.

Given this dire situation, it is clear that the local Nelson Mandela Bay government simply hasn’t had the foresight, honesty or integrity to deliver a public transport system that really changes lives. Exasperatingly, when a project is considered, such as the IPTS, the money disappears or is spent on inappropriate or unusable equipment.

This baffles me considering the instrumental role that public transport plays in growing the economy, creating jobs and connecting communities. And isn’t that exactly what this government has promised us time and time again?

But I’ve seen the Go George buses running on every third street in George. I’ve also seen the MyCiti buses rumbling along the N2 in Cape Town.

So we can’t be told that it isn’t possible, because we know it is – it’s been done and is being done elsewhere all over the country. Those services transport tens of millions of people a year with almost flawless efficacy.

We aren’t second-class citizens. We deserve the same public transport services as those delivered to the residents of other municipalities.

Democracy means that we all have the right to want more and I want more for Nelson Mandela Bay. I want a public transport system that is safe, affordable and services every community.

A public transport system that is integrated with all taxi operations, where vehicles are put through regular roadworthy checks to keep our people safe. A public transport system that creates and protects jobs.

We all need equal access to opportunities, and this requires a functional and comprehensive public transport system.

So, I invite you to “want more” with me. Let’s build an inclusive city that takes Nelson Mandela Bay to the world, and brings the world to Nelson Mandela Bay. — Athol Trollip, DA Eastern Cape Provincial Leader 

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