South Africa is ready for EcoMobility – but crime and mindsets must first be resolved
Johannesburg, October 2015 - The second EcoMobility World Festival taking place during October in Sandton, Johannesburg ends this week, with participants agreeing it has changed the way people think about mobility. The EcoMobility Festival showcased the idea of walking, cycling or using public transport.
It aimed to provide a glimpse into the future, one where we could be commuting on foot or bicycles, as well as on electric bicycles and cars. Indeed, public transport was a key factor as the city raised the vision of a sustainable and integrated system. Putting this event into context - in a central business district in which 24,000 cars enter a day and appears light years from the type of walking, cycling, pooling and sharing of cars that the concept evokes in European capitals – Karthi Pillay, Deloitte Manufacturing and Automotive Leader Africa says the end state of the future of mobility will be one where “you and I share the use of a driverless car, without either of us owning it, and this will clearly require a massive mindshift both by auto industry - whether it be auto manufacturing, insurance, financing or fuel – and by consumers”.
Pillay notes that Sandton was selected for the festival because the number of commuters to Sandton has increased at 3.4% a year and is likely to continue in the future to increase at 3% a year.
“It is no longer in the realm of science fiction, but is a process that we are just at the start of and there’s a lot for the world to digest as it edges away from its culture of car ownership – and in Africa and South Africa we arguably have a longer journey in this regard than in developed economies. The EcoMobility Festival aims to kickstart this awareness drive in a highly visible way,” says Pillay.
“There is a question as to how sustainable these changes will be once all the barriers come down after the Festival, and whether everyone will return to their cars. A great deal has to be done, but one way we can start the journey after the Festival is to cherrypick some of the best practices, such as car-pooling, and pilot them in South Africa on a longer-term and sustainable basis,” says Pillay.
This will bring up additional challenges, he suggests: “It will immediately be obvious that our public transport infrastructure is inadequate for the purpose, while cycling – even with dedicated paths - will face challenges of weather. The auto manufacturing industry in South Africa will also have to begin making much more eco-friendly vehicles. Nonetheless, a start has to be made,” he says.
South Africa has many basic issues to worry about compared to developed countries, but it is important not to waste the momentum that this EcoMobility Festival will have created.
Deloitte Director: Risk Advisory Vonani Chauke, says: “We will in time get to where Europe is, but our major prerequisite challenge to overcome is crime,” he says. To get commuters out of the personalised security of their private cars, will require a degree of trust in whatever form of transport they choose, whether it be their personal safety or the security of the asset, he explains.
”Commuters have to have belief in a mode of transport before they will venture into it, so the key issue of crime has to be addressed and that is the major reason why South Africa will lag developed countries, and will also be the major determinant of exactly how long is that lag,” says Chauke. Other issues that require resolution, he says, are the poor infrastructure and lack of a service culture which puts the consumer firmly at the centre of it.
EcoMobility can only work where there is a network of different modes of public transport which seamlessly meshes into a reliable door-to-door solution for the commuter. The challenge to such a network is typically the first kilometre and the last. “For EcoMobility to work requires putting the consumer at the heart of the service. The technology already exists to provide transport services as and when commuters require it – there are apps which enable commuters to book a ride 24 hours in advance, enabling the service provider to schedule services according to need rather than according to what suits the provider.”
What is changing perceptions of commuting in CBDs is the cost and inconvenience of parking. The large majority of South Africa’s commuter car fleet makes two trips a day and parks the rest of the day, meaning property developers are having to build ever more parking facilities for cars that remain stationary all day.
“It is this factor which will change people’s behaviour and views on car ownership. If government can deliver a well policed environment, then I believe we can very rapidly catch up on European-style commuting,” he says.
A number of important steps have been taken to promote public transport, but they are being done in silos and without the use of ‘big data’ to enable evolution of consumer needs and habits. Most people today have smart phones and apps can be developed which enable commuters to book, for instance, a bus ride.
“At the moment, commuters have to fit in with the service providers’ inflexible schedule, whereas it should be the other way around. It is this inflexibility and lack of options which deters people from using public transport – they have more certainty they can get to their destination on time with their own transport than with public transport, even if in theory something like the Gautrain is faster,” he says.
Chauke believes that the Sandton EcoMobility experience may change perceptions and kickstart the process of change management. “It will be revealed by post-event reports on accident and crime figures. Employers may be tempted to become involved as they start to see the potential for improved productivity and quality of working and home life. It could potentially become self-funding. Streets can be recovered from traffic and crime quagmires and become amenable public spaces,” he says.
Attention will now shift from the festival itself to the legacy it leaves. Pillay says a number of legacy projects which formed part of the festival will continue to promote different, more environmentally sensitive, ways of getting around.
These legacy projects - such as the construction of cycle lanes close to various high-volume routes, including along Maude, West and Alice Streets - are designed to promote the use of public transport and non-motorised forms of transport as safe, affordable and accessible alternatives to private vehicles, by making these alternative transport models accessible.
In future, cyclists will be able to ride from Rosebank to Sandton on this network. For the thousands of people who walk from Alexandra to Sandton every day, the city will also be complete a 5km path, offering a dedicated bridge across the M1 highway, for both cyclists and pedestrians by mid-2016. By this time it will also complete the conversion of West and Maude Streets into complete streets that accommodate all kinds of transport. It will also put everything in place for a public transport loop along Rivonia, Fredman, Fifth Streets and make mobility improvements to Marlboro Drive. By mid-2016, the new infrastructure will also include 35 km of public environment upgrades in Alexandra.
Chauke concludes by suggesting that the event should be seen as a “process of change management” rather than change in itself.