Johannesburg – South Africa’s investments in “costly” public transport systems did not help poor citizens and could be enhancing existing inefficiencies, senior Treasury official, Malijeng Ngqaleni, said yesterday.

Speaking at a transport conference in Pretoria yesterday, Ngqaleni, the deputy director-general responsible for inter-government relations, said expenditure on public transport had not created the agglomeration benefits “we so desire“.

Over the past 10 years, the government had spent R167 billion on infrastructure and operations, with annual growth of 18 percent, Ngqaleni said. “This spending is still on the increase, but it is not enough.”

Metrorail passengers rush to get a space on a train to Khayelitsha. The Treasury's Malijeng Ngqaleni says public transport continues to be a social inhibitor for poor households. File picture: Phando Jikelo. Credit: INDEPENDENT MEDIA

Metrorail passengers rush to get a space on a train to Khayelitsha. The Treasury’s Malijeng Ngqaleni says public transport continues to be a social inhibitor for poor households. File picture: Phando Jikelo. Credit: INDEPENDENT MEDIA

Between 2013/14 and 2015/16, expenditure for rail infrastructure and state-owned Passenger Rail Agency of SA increased by about 40 percent.
She said the modes of transport had inefficiencies, characterised by fragmented funding. “Increased investment could be enhancing inefficiency. We are not doing nearly enough for the poor. Public transport continues to be a social inhibitor for poor households, affordability, access to jobs and opportunities,” Ngqaleni said.

There were still too many poor households spending a lot of money on public transport, she said. Ngqaleni said more than 60 percent of households earning less than R500 spent more than 20 percent on transport. The percentage was higher in rural areas. “By and large, our public transport provision is very costly and not efficient. In our current constrained fiscal environment, there must be a better way.”

Bus transport was the biggest beneficiary of subsidies with a 48 percent share, followed by Gautrain at 15 percent and the bus rapid transport system (8 percent). She said provincial bus services and Gautrain were the most subsidised “relative to ridership. (Minibus) taxis are not subsidised.”

Statistics showed that the government was subsidising the middle class mainly.

Most efficient

Ngqaleni was complimentary of minibus taxis. “On face value, minibus taxis are the most efficient by far… and they serve the poor largely.”

She said, despite carrying more than two thirds of commuters in metropolitan areas, minibus taxis did not get subsidies. “Even though this is the most efficient mode of transport… the taxi industry became successful without any government subsidies,” Ngqaleni said.

But she said a subsidy for taxis was highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. “Currently none of our… modes of public transport are shining examples of efficiency. Some, like provincial buses, are clearly unsustainable due to their high operating costs. While the minibus taxi industry looks good on paper, it has very high social costs aligned to it. In fact, public transport subsidies are a worldwide problem and not unique to South Africa,” she said.

She said despite the expenditure on public transport, use of private vehicles was growing faster than public transport. “We are playing catch up to private transport use.”

In a speech read on her behalf by senior Department of Transport official, Clement Manyungwana, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters highlighted some of the problems facing the transport sector in southern Africa, including underinvestment in transport infrastructure and lack of skills.

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