• Driving ambition

    A growing number of African cities are overhauling their public transport networks in a bid to increase the mobility of their booming populations.

    Driving ambition

    ‘An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars; rather it is where even the rich use public transport.’

    This statement by Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, sums up what Africa’s city dwellers need: urban transport systems that shift away from cars towards convenient timetable-bound, cost-effective public transport.

    ‘Collective transport in Africa is very disorganised, one could say almost in a state of anarchy,’ states the Research Road Map for Public Transport in Africa, published by the Trans-Africa Consortium to promote public transport. It goes on to explain that most African cities have ‘chaotic, unsustainable, time and money wasting transport systems’, which ‘hampers their economic development and reduces the quality of life for their citizens’.

    Ousmane Thiam, honorary president of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), recently said: ‘For the moment we don’t have the right infrastructure, regulatory framework and political will for improving public transportation. This dysfunction has resulted in the loss of US$140 billion across the continent – a luxury that we cannot afford any more.’

    Melissa Whitehead, commissioner of transport authority, Transport for Cape Town, added: ‘Transport and the related infrastructure, although not classified as an essential service, is critical to the economics of any city. This relates to the individual’s economics or accessibility as well as the economic sustainability, growth or decline of the city concerned.’

    ‘Mobility plays an essential role to the livelihood of so many people, and transportation of both people and goods or services is critical’

    According to Richard Matchett, divisional director at WSP Civil and Structural Engineers: ‘The essence of any growing city – and especially cities of the future – lies in their infrastructure. There is a proven direct correlation between sufficient infrastructure and continued economic growth. In the African context this is especially relevant, where mobility plays an essential role to the livelihood of so many people, and transportation of both people and goods or services is critical to unlocking the potential of any big town or city.

    ‘City planners therefore need to scope their vision and planned projects beyond just primary economic facets – such as mining, for instance – and start to build with a long-term sense of “societal resilience” in mind. It is this resilience that will build future economies in Africa.’

    The rapid speed and high density of urbanisation in Africa is exacerbating the public transport challenge. According to the UN report on World Urbanisation Prospects, two-thirds of the global population will live in cities by 2050, with 90% of the growth concentrated in Africa and Asia. Between 2014 and 2050, the urban population of Africa is likely to triple. Nigeria alone is expected to add 212 million urban dwellers in this period.

    According to the report, Cairo (Egypt), Kinshasa (DRC) and Lagos (Nigeria) are Africa’s only megacities currently, with each having a population of 10 million or more. However, ‘three more are expected to emerge by 2030, as Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Luanda (Angola) are each projected to surpass the 10 million mark’.

    This growth will result in new challenges for the world’s urban mobility systems, said Alain Flausch, UITP secretary general. Speaking at the opening of the third Congress of the African Association of Public Transport (UATP) in Johannesburg in October 2014, he added that there was a ‘unique opportunity for African cities to become the test-bed and breeding ground of tomorrow’s urban mobility systems’.

    By 2030, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg and Luanda are each projected to surpass the 10 million population mark

    Several large African cities are already making strides in public transport, notably Cape Town, Johannesburg, Dar es Salaam and Lagos. The Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) has a 20-year strategic transport plan in place. It proposes a light-rail network comprising one monorail and six light-rail mass transit corridors.

    LAMATA CEO Dayo Mobereola told the UATP Congress: ‘The development of the rail routes will be carried out in phases over two decades. We commenced the development of the first line – the Blue Rail Line – in August 2010.’

    In his business case, he said that the Blue Line would transport 450 000 passengers daily in 2016 and 850 000 in 2030. At an investment cost of over US$1 billion, this would result in an operating saving benefit of around US$204 million and time-saving benefit of about US$2 billion (net present values).

    So far the project has generated more than 2 000 direct and indirect jobs. Other benefits will be a reduction in travel time from more than two hours to 37 minutes per trip while the waiting time would be reduced from over 30 minutes to five minutes, at a cost decrease of US$3 to US$1. Air pollution is expected to be reduced by 25% along the corridor.

    One of the most effective transport methods cities can utilise is the bus rapid transit (BRT) system, which combines the proportions and speed of a metro with the flexibility, cost and simplicity of a bus. BRTs operate within a dedicated right of way on the road to avoid traffic congestion.

    ‘Public transport is a critical means by which citizens can effectively access goods and services across the expanse of today’s cities,’ says Leon Boshoff, project principal on the Rustenburg BRT project, in South Africa, for infrastructure development company Bigen Africa.

    ‘BRT has been found to be one of the most cost-effective mechanisms for cities to rapidly develop a public transport system that can achieve a full network, as well as deliver a rapid and high-quality service. While still in its early years of application, the BRT concept offers the potential to revolutionise the manner of urban transport.’

    In Johannesburg, the Rea Vaya BRT and the state-of-the-art rapid rail network Gautrain are changing the face of public transport.

    Parks Tau, the city’s executive mayor, said in his 2013 state of the nation speech: ‘Today we are taking transit-oriented development another step forward, with the introduction of a project that will forever change the urban structure of Johannesburg and eradicate the legacy of apartheid spatial planning. Over the decade we will introduce transport corridors connecting strategic nodes through an affordable and accessible mass public transit that includes both bus and passenger rail.

    ‘Along these corridors we will locate mixed income housing, schools, offices, community facilities, cultural centres, parks, public squares, clinics and libraries.’

    The objective of these ‘corridors of freedom’ is the creation of a spatially integrated city – one that moves away from being car-oriented to a city that focuses on public transport, walking and cycling.

    The high-tech Gautrain rail project will ultimately offer four service routes. Currently it has two links – one connecting Pretoria and Johannesburg (operational since August 2011), the other OR Tambo International Airport and Sandton (operational since June 2010).

    The Dar Rapid Transit (DART) project is a BRT system being implemented in Dar es Salaam at an estimated cost of US$470 million.

    The government is providing the infrastructure, including depots, while the operations – fare collection, station management and bus operation – will be contracted to the private sector. The high-capacity buses, able to carry more than 140 passengers each, will run on dedicated lanes to ease congestion.

    According to the DART agency, dedicated bike lanes and tree-lined pavements for pedestrians have been provided along the BRT corridor to encourage road users to change to more environmentally friendly non-motorised transport.

    Efforts are under way to integrate the daladala (minibus taxi) operators into the BRT system, as in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy is assisting the agency to prepare for a 2015 opening.

    It states: ‘Once running, the DART BRT will dramatically reduce commute times for Dar es Salaam residents, who currently face upwards of four hours stuck in traffic each day.

    The objective of these ‘corridors of freedom’ is a spatially integrated city that that focuses on public transport, walking and cycling

    ‘This project has the potential to be truly transformative, building a place for urban life in Tanzania and curbing the potential for sprawl.’

    Modern urban mobility services require smart ticketing. Passengers can use their smartphones or tablets for timetable information, ticketing and payment processes. For example, Cape Town’s MyCiTi BRT uses a cashless card payment system and offers interactive trip planning on its website.

    The efficient, integrated bus network will create new corridors designed to cover wide parts of the Cape Peninsula by 2020. The MyCiti objectives includes ‘improving the socio-economic conditions and quality of life of all Capetonians’, and ‘creating greater access to all parts of the city for work, study and leisure’.

    There is still a lot to be done to modernise, expand and integrate the public transport set-up in Africa’s cities, but the first results
    in urban mobility are bearing their fruits. Examples as in Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa are encouraging.

    They show that the vision of an advanced city, where even the wealthy use public transport instead of their cars, can be turned into an African reality.

    By Silke Colquhoun
    Image: Juliette Bisset/HSMimages