Improving public transport in the Western Cape is a priority

Improving public transport in the Western Cape is a major strategic objective for the current administration.

Speaking at a milestone celebration to mark the handing over of the 500th MAN bus to Golden Arrow Bus Service in Cape Town recently, Robin Carlisle, MEC for Transport, Western Cape, said this demonstration of collaboration was part of the solution to providing public commuters with an effective transport service delivery.

It appears that public transport in the region is currently not in good shape, and there are a number of reasons for this situation.

The role of the mini-bus taxi industry is in question as it has not yet fully identified its place in the local public transport arena. Also, for the past few decades, roads have not been developed nor maintained effectively.

Although Cape Town and the surrounding region have a relatively good rail infrastructure, it is a prime priority to ensure that the rail system is able to carry the ‘big numbers’. “For the rail network to operate at an optimal level, it requires a comprehensive system of road-based transport to fulfill its role,” said Carlisle.

As a result, the next concern focuses on the role of road-based transport, which plays two important roles: first to feed the trains, and second to transport commuters across areas that do not have rail infrastructure. The passenger road-based transport sector relies on three supply systems: buses, taxis and the bus rapid transport (BRT) network, and it is most important to promote co-operation between the three modes.

However, there are times and situations when the rail system cannot carry all the ‘big numbers’, and that’s when the other systems need to step in to ensure that commuters are being transported.

During the recent public transport strikes, GABS demonstrated its commitment to excellent customer service by doubling its peak-time operations and, together with the mini-bus operators, ensured that everyone could reach their place of employment each day.

“Road-based public transport will change and grow,” said Carlisle, “but it must be done in an atmosphere of trust and transparency. An appeal for a successful public-private partnership could pave the way to resolving the issues on the table.”

GABS interaction with the City of Cape Town is already ‘robust’, said Nic Cronje, CEO of GABS. “We are driven by a desire to cater for the needs and benefits of Cape Town commuters. Loyal GABS passengers are loyal public transport users,” he added.

Golden Arrow currently operates well over 1 000 buses during peak periods, serving 900 routes in metropolitan Cape Town, covering a total area of approximately 2 460 km². The fleet travels 62-million kilometres annually, conveying 56-million passengers at a rate of 270 000 per weekday.

Another problem facing the public transport sector in the Western Cape, and even South Africa in general is the lack of personnel skilled in running transport enterprises. Carlisle acknowledged that “Golden Arrow Bus Services (GABS) is a major player in the area, bringing with it essential skills based on decades of experience. More importantly, GABS is a very stable player in the area.”

“GABS’s focus is on passengers,” added Cronje. “Every one of GABS’s 2 600 employees, no matter their function, plays an important role in servicing the customer.

“An aggressive bus-buying initiative began in 2004, and the GABS-MAN partnership has produced a number of significant developments directly benefiting the customers. The most important has been a significant improvement in fuel efficiency, with a direct impact on ticket costs,” said Cronje.

The 500th MAN bus is the first of an order for an additional 84 MAN HB2 - 18.240 FOCR buses, to be supplied at a rate of seven units per month until December 2011, and results from the close partnership that has developed between the two companies during the past 10 years. The GABS MAN fleet is the largest in MAN’s Africa region.

“This reflects the confidence and trust that GABS has put into MAN products and service delivery levels,” said Markus Geyer, CEO MAN Truck& Bus. “With it comes the responsibility to perform to ensure that the buses keep running and ensure minimum down-time. This ties in with MAN’s brand values and the importance of developing a long-term partnership with customers.”

Geyer added that MAN’s brand values are based on three premises: customer proximity, product enthusiasm and efficiency.

Customer proximity is reflected in the close co-operation MAN has with the GABS technical department to ensure a long-term working partnership in improving the product for the commuters’ benefit. The lessons learned can be applied locally and other regions in Africa.

Product enthusiasm is reflected in MAN’s decades-long history of developing products to best suit customers’ needs.

Striving to improve efficiency is reflected in MAN’s commitment to operate locally and contribute to the local economy. With a bus body manufacturing facility in Olifantsfontein, Gauteng, and a truck and bus chassis CKD assembly plant in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal, the company demonstrates its commitment to the local economy.

“This goes much further than merely an investment in the building of vehicles,” said Geyer. “It includes the valuable functions of management and skills training and skills transfer. On the technical side, the major features of MAN’s efficiency drive are the reduction in fuel consumption and vehicle down-time. MAN believes it is essential to be a progressive player in the total economic arena.”