October 2014

Cities occupy a fraction of the earth’s surface yet are home to more than half the planet’s population. Think tanks and experts advise that by 2050 more than three quarters of the world’s population will live in cities.

The City of Cape Town has not escaped the global pattern of rapid urbanisation and the 2011 national census confirms that our population has grown by about 30% over the past decade.

As a government we grapple with the complexities, dynamics and demands of a rapidly changing city every single day. The challenges associated with rapid urbanisation are compounded in our case by the apartheid patterns of spatial segregation and exclusion, by growing urban poverty and unemployment, fragmented and poor public transport, complex housing delivery and the risks of climate change.

The City’s spatial planning patterns, one of the most obstinate apartheid legacies to overcome, sees poor, mostly black, residents located in poverty traps on the outskirts of a sprawling city far removed from economic opportunities, social amenities and tertiary education.

Our commitment– to build an inclusive, safe, caring, well run, opportunity city that is sustainable and liveable – should be familiar to many by now and we are determined to stay the course in order to get there.

Public transport is key to remedying the social and economic consequences of the distorted spatial patterns we have inherited and to in fact begin to undo those patterns and create a city of inclusion and integration. But public transport will not achieve this on its own. In fact a viable and sustainable public transport system is also symbiotically dependent on us undoing the perverse apartheid spatial planning and addressing the social and economic exclusion that many of our residents experience.

The City recently adopted a new integrated public transport network plan (IPTN). This plan identifies the public transport routes that will satisfy the future mobility and access requirements of the city and our people and indicates which modes would be most appropriate for each of those routes.

We are working towards one public transport network comprising a hierarchy of modes with rail (Metrorail) and bus rapid transit (MyCiTi) providing the mass rapid transit services supported by conventional bus services, taxis and non-motorised transport such as walking and cycling. Our IPTN has identified that the public transport network required by 2032 will need an additional ten MyCiTi BRT trunk routes and an additional commuter rail line.

While the City has received substantial capital grant funding for the implementation of the MyCiTi BRT – to the tune of around R6.5 billion thus far – the operational costs of the public transport service are only partially funded through national grants and subsidies. The City is required to operate a financially viable and sustainable service using revenue from the fare box, other revenue such as outdoor advertising, and rates income.

Having signed and sealed three 12 year operating agreements a year ago and having operated in terms of those agreements we are gaining significant insights into our actual operating costs and how to improve cost effectiveness. Not surprisingly, our analysis has indicated the profound impact of current movement patterns on system sustainability.

A key factor is directly related to the spatial form of our City, the apartheid spatial legacy, and the peak tidal-wave-like transport pattern this form generates with extremely high peak to off-peak passenger demand ratios.

High demand peaks require expensive fleet capacity, which then lies idle for much of the day. Although the dedicated MyCiTi headways (the exclusive bus lanes) provide significant journey time savings, meaning that the buses are able to turn around and do more than one trip in the peak period (and this has big cost savings), more often than not, and once again because of the City’s spatial patterns, these buses return with few or no passengers on board.

It is crucial that we build the off-peak market and that we build a healthy counter flow demand in the peak. In this way we will ensure a financially feasible and sustainable public transport network.

Our advanced electronic fare management system allows us to incentivise off-peak travel by offering significantly reduced fares in the off-peak periods and we have already taken advantage of this technology in our current MyCiTi fare structure.

Creating travel patterns where bus seats see constant turnover throughout a journey as people get on and off along the way and where there is strong demand in both directions throughout the day requires change to the spatial form of our city and this will take many decades to achieve. So, best we start soon.

Cities across the globe that have low density urban sprawl are battling with the high cost of that sprawl – especially the need to constantly expand and provide infrastructure like roads, water mains, sanitation and electricity as well as to provide services like public transport, local policing and road maintenance across vast urban areas.

Increasingly these cities are looking to contain urban development, to build more space efficient cities and to use existing infrastructure to support new development rather than provide more and new infrastructure.

These cities are building efficient and compact cities on the provision of public transport and by developing around the public transport network infrastructure.

To achieve efficiencies in our city, and for our public transport system, and to ensure that we build an economically and socially sustainable city, it is in my view imperative that we look to the principles of transit orientated development (TOD).

While transit orientated development typically includes increasing dwelling densities around public transport nodes, like rail or BRT stations, and along transport trunk corridors, TOD also refers to improving liveability.

Good transit orientated development is quality urban space that includes neighbourhoods designed for cycling and walking and where streets have good connectivity and traffic calming measures to control vehicle speeds.

The surrounding development is essentially mixed-use that includes commercial, retail, schools and other public services, and offers a wide variety of housing types including market, social and public housing. Parking is managed to reduce the amount of land devoted to parking and public transport stops and stations are convenient and secure with comfortable waiting areas, a variety of convenience shops, and clean ablution facilities.

Marya Morris, an American Planner, writes that “A TOD typically has a centre with a commuter rail station or several intersecting bus routes, surrounded by clustered housing, commercial and office development, with progressively lower densities on the perimeter. TODs are carefully designed to balance relatively high-density housing with shops, workplaces and transit access.”

The benefits of TOD should be obvious and include walkable neighbourhoods that accommodate more healthy and active lifestyles, increased ridership and fare revenue for the public transport system, increased property values where transport investments have occurred, improved access to jobs and economic opportunities and expanded mobility choices that reduce dependence on the car, reduce transportation costs and free up household income for other purposes.

About 18 months ago I established a multi-disciplinary working group to study transit orientated development and consider how this could be implemented in Cape Town. I am extremely pleased that that work has culminated in Transport for Cape Town, our transport authority, using transport month to focus on TOD and to further that work with a TOD summit aimed at robust engagement about what TOD could mean for the future of our city, our transport system and for building an inclusive socially and economically sustainable city where poorer residents have increasingly better access and opportunities.

We have a bold and credible plan to vastly improve public transport over the next two decades. It is vital for the future of our city that we support that plan with bold and courageous land use plans that will start to shift the shape of the city so that every one of us has increasingly better prospects coupled with affordable and equitable access to everything our great city has to offer.