Cape Town’s Mobility Crisis and the Potential Influence of the Corporate Sector

How and why the corporate sector needs to act collectively in relation to the mobility challenges and opportunities in the Cape Town city-region

The state of Cape Town’s transport system

It is no secret that Cape Town and the wider city-region is facing a mobility crisis that seems to be getting worse with no clear end in sight. The high levels of traffic congestion on our roads has become characteristic of the city-region. This was substantiated by the TomTom Traffic Index (based on 2016 statistics), which rated Cape Town as having the worst traffic congestion of all cities in South Africa with an added travel time of 35%, representing a 5% increase since the previous year. This ranking positions Cape Town as the 48th most congested city in the world. Increasing traffic congestion not only affects the economic growth of Cape Town; it also impacts the daily lives of people living in the city.

In recent years, the City of Cape Town introduced the MyCiTi BRT system as well as some less-effective cycle lanes in an effort to encourage people to use public transport and non-motorised transport. The City has also introduced a number of travel demand management (TDM) measures including increasing parking tariffs in business areas and proposing flexible working hours for City employees. However, these measures have had limited impact on reducing traffic congestion as the situation on our roads is compounded by the lack of an integrated, safe and high-capacity public transport system. It is widely agreed in local and international circles that building more roads and adding more lanes will not address the congestion challenge, and that expanding the capacity and efficiency of mass transit and non-motorised transport options are key in the short and long term.

Cape Town’s commuter rail service, operated by Metrorail Western Cape, has been on a decline for the past two decades and is now at crisis point. The Central Line, which services Khayelitsha, Mitchell’s Plain as well as a route to Bellville via Belhar/Sarepta, was suspended for six weeks following the fatal shooting of a Prasa security guard at Chris Hani station, Khayelitsha in January of this year. The Central Line is the busiest line on Cape Town’s rail network, and its closure left thousands of rail commuters stranded and forced to find other modes of transport.

Violence and vandalism is regrettably not limited to Cape Town’s rail network. In recent weeks, there has been a spate of attacks on MyCiti buses in Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha, and two major MyCiti bus stations (Dunoon and Usasaza) have been vandalised to the point of closure. Not only do these attacks cause massive disruptions to scheduled services, commuters are left fearing for their lives.

It then comes as no surprise that commuters are opting for road-based alternatives that are considered safer and more convenient. With seemingly limited options, commuters are opting to use private vehicles, which in turn exacerbates traffic congestion in the city. The N2 High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes have also been observed to be supporting higher capacities than is intended, having to absorb the lower capacity in other public transport modes.

It is a reality that our existing transport network is over-burdened with demand exceeding supply and this necessitates an urgent response from all sectors of society, including the corporate sector. According to TDM expert, Gail Jennings, managing travel demand is about shifting the way in which people move; TDM is not about reducing congestion for private cars but providing active incentives to get people out of their cars and change their travel choices. According to Jennings, one of the ways in which the corporate sector could get involved is through employee travel programmes, for example, parking cash-outs (the option of exchanging your subsidised parking bay for cash), limiting the number of parking bays, and subsidising car pools.

Despite significant interest from the corporate sector, no dedicated body existed to lead and coordinate their collective action in relation to the mobility challenges and opportunities in the city-region. This vacuum paved the way for the establishment of the Transport Project Office.

Transport Project Office

The Transport Project Office (TPO) is an Accelerate Cape Town initiative in partnership with Future Cape Town, which aims to coordinate corporate leadership and action in relation to the transport challenges and opportunities in the Cape Town city-region. The TPO works through a partnership-based approach to leverage corporate sector influence in an effort to make a meaningful contribution to Cape Town’s transport landscape. This impact extends beyond traditional transport infrastructure but also works in the areas of research and data gathering, advocacy, communications and digital innovation.

Various TPO members also recently attended the urgent rail summit convened by the City of Cape Town’s Transport and Urban Development Authority (TDA). The event was a solutions-oriented discussion about the interventions that can be implemented with immediate effect to stabilise the rail service as soon as possible. The outcome is a R48 million action plan focussing on safety and security, a joint initiative of the City of Cape Town, the Western Cape Government and Prasa.

The TPO is currently sponsored by eight corporate members with head offices located in the Cape Town CBD and the V&A Waterfront’s Silo District. The TPO is working with its corporate members to promote alternative transport options, to test their appetite, and to trial the use of these alternatives. Two of the broader initiatives being promoted by the TPO at present include carpooling and a corporate shuttle service.

TPO Initiative 1: Carpooling

Carpooling simply means sharing a ride in a private vehicle with a work colleague or friend. Increasing the number of people in the car makes the vehicle journey more efficient, resulting in fewer cars on the road, which can help to reduce traffic congestion. There has been a slow uptake of carpooling in Cape Town as it is often perceived as being awkward, unsafe and not worth the inconvenience of arranging a shared trip. But with the increasing congestion on our roads and a public transport system that is failing a significant proportion of the population, people are considering alternatives.

For large businesses, there is a bigger ‘pool’ of potential colleagues with which to share a ride, making carpooling a cost effective and efficient way to travel to work. Smart mobility technology, such as smartphone apps, is changing the way we move around the city and creating more choices for people. In Cape Town, apps such as uGoMyWay are simplifying the process of arranging a shared trip by matching drivers with passengers to achieve the most efficient trips possible.

The TPO is promoting carpooling as a convenient and affordable transport alternative amongst its corporate members and has introduced corporate employees to the uGoMyWay app. There has been immense interest in carpooling from employees; however, it is clear that more work needs to be done to change people’s mind-sets and travel behaviour in order to convert interested people into regular users of the uGoMyWay app.

Carpooling won’t solve the traffic congestion problem but it provides another choice for people who are interested in shifting away from single occupancy private vehicles. Most notably, carpooling offers great potential for reducing carbon emissions. According to a 2016 Policy Brief by Open Streets, carbon emissions could be reduced by 10% by increasing vehicle occupancy by just 13%, which means an increase from 1.4 to 1.58 average occupants per car.

The City of Cape Town’s TDM Strategy, which promotes measures and interventions aimed at changing an individual’s travel behaviour, encourages carpooling as a way to reduce congestion through increased vehicle occupancy. Within the City’s TDM Strategy and the Comprehensive Integrated Transport Plan (CITP) 2017 – 2022 (2017 Draft), carpooling is identified as a focus of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Priority Strategies. As part of their plan to encourage and facilitate the use of carpooling, the City proposes to establish preferential or dedicated parking areas for carpool vehicles, investigate options for establishing and implementing ‘guaranteed ride home’ schemes for carpool users, and investigate the possibility of allowing registered carpool users to use HOV lanes. These potential incentives, if successfully implemented, could encourage a lot more commuters to opt for carpooling.

TPO Initiative 2: Corporate shuttle

There has been a rise in private shuttle services in cities around the world with different types of shuttle services being operated. For example, there are those owned and operated by large corporates, such as Apple and Google, for the exclusive use of their employees. There are also private bus or taxi companies that run services to and from designated locations for a number of corporates’ employees. In Cape Town, GoMetro is in the process of trialling its flx private shuttle service, which aims to provide a premium, demand-responsive door-to-door service to its customers.

Another initiative of the TPO is to trial a corporate shuttle service that will provide a daily commuter service to its corporate members’ 6500 employees. In a survey conducted by the TPO, over 2000 corporate employees indicated that a staggering 9 out of 10 people would consider taking a shuttle to and from work.

As with carpooling, private shuttles can help relieve strain on the overburdened public transport system and help to reduce traffic congestion and lower carbon emissions. However, there is currently a policy vacuum around private shuttles in Cape Town as both the City’s TDM Strategy and CITP are silent on private shuttles as a transport alternative. Nevertheless, there is no reason why private shuttles should not be seen in the same light as carpools and be considered as HOVs, enabling private shuttles to benefit from the incentives of the City’s HOV strategies.

Corporate sector’s role in influencing change

It is imperative that all sectors of society support efforts to save Cape Town’s ailing rail network and other public transport systems as these form the backbone of our mobility network and hundreds of thousands of commuters rely on these services daily. In fact, the economy is dependent upon an “all-aboard” approach. Beyond this, the corporate sector has enormous potential to influence change in an individual’s travel behaviour. A number of corporates in Cape Town have already made the commitment to make their employees aware of the alternatives and of the potential benefits available to them and to society of opting to use these alternatives, including rethinking their parking bay requirements and needs. This is just a start and the TPO will continue to share the lessons learnt through this partnership in the hope that more corporates will make the decision to act.


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