This week sees the beginning of February, also known as Budget Speech Month to us South Africans. There are plenty of people watching Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba with baited breath to see what budget he will bring – and many people are watching their fuel tanks too.
There is ample reason to fear that the budget will bring increased fuel levies and other motorist-affecting taxes, like Pravin Gordhan’s tyre tax of yesteryear. This past week, IOL published an appeal by the AA to Gigaba not to kick citizens with increased fuel taxes while they are already down, so to speak. “Any levy increases higher than inflation will cause significant increases in the cost of mobility, whether the wheels are yours or public transport,” said the AA’s Layton Beard in the article. “We cannot support such hikes and urge government to make their decision carefully.”
It makes one think about the need for public transport and mobility solutions to unite us as a country. Increased fuel hikes wouldn’t just affect the big Land Rovers driving around Sandton. It would affect every taxi, every tuk tuk and every train too.
“Any more hikes in these levies will affect the poorest of the poor more than anybody else, because they rely on public transport – and the operators of that public transport, are going to pass their increased operating costs straight on to the people who can least afford it. Road users in general are already under enormous financial strain,” said the same IOL article.
It reminds us of something DA Leader Mmusi Maimane said last year at the Transport and Mobility Summit in Nelson Mandela Bay:
“Efficient, affordable and reliable public transport networks is one very important way of loosening the grip of poverty. But like in many other areas of public policy, we have not done nearly enough to fight poverty with excellent public transport.”
A new idea that is really picking up speed in the UK is that of travel clubs – and it could well be a solution for SA too. Essentially, these are separate companies that smaller businesses outsource their employee travel requirements to. These can be as generic as companies that hand over discounted travel tickets and coupons to employers for existing transport modes employees can use, to something more specialised like a shuttle that several companies will use at once much like a shared Uber for their employees.
But Maimane didn’t stop there. “To truly unlock the potential of our cities, we must get our people back onto trains in great numbers. Because, when properly run, commuter rail holds the key to connecting the bulk of our people with economic opportunities. The deterioration of Cape Town’s Metrorail service has had a profound impact on the City’s ability to move people in and out of town. Over the past four years, the number of passengers boarding trains daily in Cape Town has dropped by a staggering 43%. And these people all ended up on the roads in taxis, in buses and in cars, making Cape Town South Africa’s most congested city. The solution is to allow the City to bring commuter rail into its transport plan by giving it control of the rail networks, the stations and the land on which these lie,” he said. “Perhaps it is finally time for an underground metro rail for South Africa’s beating economic heart,” he added later.
It was thought-provoking stuff at the time, and heartening to see someone in a political position of leadership thinking like, well, us. Now, in 2018, his words are ringing truer than ever – what are we, not the ANC or the DA or whoever, going to do about the way we move?
Until then, have a great week, and travel safe.