Monthly Archives: December 2015

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Town Planning

Bernard Tembo from UCL writes on the benefits of bus rapid transit (BRT) systems and their integration into new urban planning ventures.

In our last article, Africities, 2063, and Time, Simon Batchelor and Sumaya Mahomed looked at the disjoint in project timescales used by donors, CSOs etc. and the municipalities. They elaborated the complexity process and stages that projects have to go through for them to see light of day, stating that instead of the commonly used timescales of 1-3 years, most municipalities’ projects have a longer timescale of between 10 to 30 years. This article gives an observer perspective on how town planning approvals and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in South African cities link.

Major South African municipalities have embarked on projects that will not only improve the efficiency of the transport network but also reduce emissions from the transport system. Municipalities such as Durban, Polokwane, Johannesburg and Cape Town are implementing BRT projects.

In Polokwane for instance, this project targets the areas that are densely populated. These area is currently serviced an inefficient public transport network and private transport. The City experiences loss of man-hours during peak time because of traffic jams. The City therefore, hopes that by providing a safe, reliable and efficient public transport network, the citizens’ social and economic livelihood could be improved.

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SAMSET team members and bus rapid transit lanes on a highway in Polokwane, South Africa. Image: Hlengiwe Radebe, SEA

The City of Cape Town on the other hand has an already functioning BRT system, not covering the whole City though. One of the objectives of this system is to encourage modal shift: from private to public transport system. In one section of Cape Town called the Northern Suburbs, there a new shopping mall called Bayside Mall. This mall is serviced by a well-functioning BRT system. However, despite availability of this functional public transport system, the shopping mall has a huge private car parking space (lot).

This raises questions about how well coordinated internal City development approvals and plans are: on one hand you want to encourage use of public transport yet on the other incentivising private transport system. It is an established fact that building infrastructure such as malls have a long life span (more than 40 years). And secondly and perhaps more importantly that because without putting in place stringent measures, private transport will continue to grow in the City. As private transport offers better safety and convenience for the user. Apart for convenience and safety, private transport is perspective as a symbol of esteemed status. With an increasing middle‑class, most transport users particularly those with enough disposal increase to shop in places like Bayside Mall will most likely desire to use private transport.

It would therefore be important that the City authorities relook at requirements for new developments before they approve building plans. One such requirement would be size customer parking space in shopping malls. I am aware that they are a lot of power and political games at play with such developments (shopping malls that is) but there is always a first.

This is an interesting challenge of synchronising long term plans with short term desires. A challenge that cannot be solved using a one size fits all approach, it requires consented efforts from all stakeholders.

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Africities, 2063, and Time

This is a joint blog by Simon Batchelor from Gamos and Sumaya Mahomed, Professional Officer in Renewable and Energy Efficiency in the Cape Town Municipality.

At the recent Africities conference, some of the SAMSET researchers had a conversation with municipal partners, and this article tries to capture its essence.  Their subject – timescales.

In the development sector, donors, civil society, NGOs, researchers, all tend to speak in terms of 1 to 3 years projects. While the planning processes of logical frameworks and business cases allows for an impact after the project end, there are few agencies willing to commit to more than 3 years. SAMSET is actually a four year project and in that sense quite rare.  Most of the other USES projects were 1 to 3 years. Yet within SAMSET is the aspiration to assist our partner municipalities to gather data, create a state of energy report, to model the future (based on that data), to take decisions and create a strategy for ‘energy transitions’. And, within the timeframe of the project, to take some first steps in that strategy, some actions.

In a slight contrast to this, Africities has as its slogan – “SHAPING THE FUTURE OF AFRICA WITH THE PEOPLE: THE CONTRIBUTION OF AFRICAN LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO AGENDA 2063 OF THE AFRICAN UNION.”. It is looking at 2063!  That is (nearly) a fifty year horizon. Africities knows that municipal planning, changes in infrastructure, raising the finance for those changes, takes decades not years.

SAMSET is funded by UK donors and some of the researchers come from the UK, so lets take the London Cross rail link as an example. First of all, lets remember that the essence of London Underground – the transport system that effectively keeps London working – that the essence was established in 1863 (The Metropolitan Railway, using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives!). That’s nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. The cross link is a new tunnel that will join east London (the banking and business hub) to west London, and beyond. This tunnel has to go ‘in a straight line’ while at the same time missing existing underground tunnels, water mains, etc. At times it will be created just 1 metre from an existing underground structure.

So its perhaps surprising that it was apparently first mentioned in 1941, was written on a plan in 1943, serious consultations in the seventies, serious proposals in the nineties, commercial proposal in 2001, and decided on in 2005 (10 years ago) and construction started 2009. Despite the huge advances in tunnelling, it will still take another 5 years to complete.

And of course it is only one part of an ongoing dynamic change in infrastructure of one of the worlds leading cities.

So imagine now trying to raise funding for a Bus Rapid Transport system in Polokwane. The changes will require that roads be changed, new lanes created, negotiations with landowners of key areas, procurement of the equipment. It is not surprising that it has taken over 9 years since serious planning started (2006), and that it will take until 2020 before it is fully implemented, with all the associated traffic disruption of road works etc. Infrastructure in cities takes time to change.

SAMSET modelling shows what the energy consumption of a partner city might look like in 2030. It starts with a ‘business as usual’ model and then explores possible changes, assisting the partners to identify a key change that will make a good (low carbon) longer term change. In the case of Cape Town, the municipality asked for projections to 2040, as the felt 2030 was too close. The timescales in municipality minds are of 10 year, 20 year projects, not 1 to 3 year disconnected projects.

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Figure 1 Cape Town Growth in energy consumption per sector for ‘business as usual’ scenario.

And consider the energy impact of a building. A building will last 40 years or more, so if planning permission is given to an energy inefficient glass tower, the air-con commitment is there until 2063.

So municipal planning has a very long term view. Of course in a counter flow to this long view of the municipal civil servants are the politicians who have a very short term view. Politicians are often concerned with short term benefits and easy wins, so they or their party gets re-elected.  For city planners it is a difficult balance.

So when we think of energy transitions what is the right timescale? Well in a complex world we have to think of all the actors, their different needs and juggle all of them together. We do need to find early easy wins so that donors to research projects and politicians are happy enough to fund a phase two.  We do need to build capacity so that despite the movement of people from job to job, a municipality gradually gains the required skills to consult, plan and implement longer term energy transitions.  And we do need to have a long term view. Building infrastructure, even building buildings, commits a city to a particular energy path for decades not just years, and so those long term implications need to be taken into account.

Smaller African cities need sustainable energy intervention

Originally posted on The Conversation, Louise Tait from the University of Cape Town Energy Research Centre writes on sustainable urban planning and energy, and the SAMSET Project’s role in supporting sustainable energy development in developing world cities.

Africa is experiencing a massive flow of people into urban areas. This is happening in major urban centres such as Lagos, Accra and Dar es Salaam as well as in smaller and secondary cities. The pace at which this urban growth is happening inevitably puts strain on city authorities. The supply of services and developing infrastructure is vital for human and economic development.

But the evidence base to support forward planning remains scarce for most cities. In its absence, cities run the risk of infrastructural lock-ins to systems that are unable to accommodate their growth sustainably.

Cities with high concentrations of people and economic activities are major sites of energy demand. Africa contributes very little to global climate change today. But future growth must be managed sustainably. If the emissions of developing country cities increase similar to many western cities today, catastrophic climate change will be unavoidable.

The SAMSET project

Supporting African Municipalities in Sustainable Energy Transitions, or SAMSET, is a four-year project that commenced in 2013. Its aim was to address sustainable energy transitions in African cities. It provides practical planning and implementation support to municipalities to manage future energy planning in a sustainable manner.

The project involves six cities in Ghana, Uganda and South Africa. The cities were Ga East and Awutu Senya East in Ghana, Kasese and Jinja in Uganda and Cape Town and Polokwane in South Africa. Research and support organisations in each country and the UK were involved as well.

Secondary and smaller cities are the main focus for support. These cities are also experiencing massive social and economic expansions. But they typically have less capacity to cope. Despite their significance as current and future sites of energy demand, they receive much less research and funding focus.

Secondary cities such as Uganda’s Kasese traditionally lack the research or funding to make sustainable energy transitions.

Developing an evidence base to support planning

The first phase of the project involved developing an evidence base to support planning and future implementation of sustainable energy interventions. Locally relevant planning tools are essential. There are very few studies investigating and modelling the energy systems of African cities. South Africa is a notable exception.

An urban energy system refers to all the flows of different energy resources, such as petrol, diesel, electricity, wood and charcoal in a city. It records where resources are produced or imported into an area and where they are consumed in different sectors. Such information can help cities better understand which sectors are major consumers and identify inefficiencies. It also helps identify where opportunities for energy efficiency and new technologies may lie, especially those associated with improved economic and welfare effects.

Much of how we understand urban energy systems is based on cities in western and developed countries. But many cities in Africa challenge assumptions about economic development trajectories and spatial arrangements that may be implicit in energy modelling approaches which are based on developed country experiences.

SAMSET modelled the urban energy systems of each of these cities using the Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning model. It was developed by the Stockholm Environment Institute. This model records all energy consumption and production in each sector of an economy. For example the household, commercial, industrial and transport sectors are all recorded. It is a useful planning tool because it projects the growth of energy systems until 2030 under different scenarios. This helps cities understand the future impacts of different investment and planning decisions now.

For SAMSET, universities in each country undertook primary data collection on sectoral energy demand and supply. A baseline model and range of scenarios were then collaboratively developed with local research partners and municipalities.

The project aimed to develop an evidence base to serve as a tool for local decision-makers. Also for further collaborative energy strategy development and to prioritise the implementing of options for the next phases. The scenarios have therefore attempted the following:

  • Through stakeholder engagement, to take into account governance systems.
  • Existing infrastructural constraints and opportunities.
  • Aligning with other development imperatives.

Value of the process

The project has served to introduce to city and local planners the use of energy models. It also attempted to set up the foundation for future development of energy modelling exercises and its applications. Collaborating to collect data, discuss key energy issues, and identify interventions are highly valuable to local stakeholders.

The process was instrumental in generating an understanding of energy planning. For some of municipalities, this was the first time consideration has been given to energy as a municipal function.

The modelling process acts as a strategic entry point to build interest and support for the project with municipal stakeholders. It also provides a useful platform and tool to engage around long-term planning and the implications of different actions. An example is infrastructural lock-in to emissions and energy intensive growth paths.

Value of the outputs

SAMSET is making an important knowledge contribution to the dynamics of sustainable energy transitions in African cities. Such research is of course made difficult by the data scarcity typical at a sub-national level. But this is merely reflective of the lack of financial investment to date.

The local data collection processes in this project have been vital in building capacity and generating awareness around urban energy systems. Developing new data and building knowledge of urban energy transitions in the global south is critically important. It has had a strong focus on establishing a network of both north-south and south-south practitioners to support more work in this arena.

The modelling has had to account for several distinct characteristics. These include:

  • The informal economy
  • Own energy generation through diesel and gasoline generators
  • The high reliance on biomass
  • Variations in urban forms and issues such as suppressed demand for energy services.

This project has also made important methodological contributions to modelling urban energy systems in developing countries.