Tag Archives: Mass Transit

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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Prosperity in a Rapidly Urbanising World; Where Do We Go From Here?

Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from UCL recently attended a talk entitled “Prosperity in a rapidly urbanising world; Where do we go from here?” given at UCL by Dr Julio Davlia from the Institute of Global Prosperity at UCL’s Development Planning Unit. The talk was focused around the challenge of improving prosperity and economic development in the developing world whilst facing the constraints, challenges and opportunities of a rapidly urbanising world.

The presentation began with an investigation of the causes of modern urbanisation in a sociological sense (in terms of modernisation theory), and also from the point of view of development economics, including the Harris-Todaro model of rural-urban migration, and examining the pull and push factors that affect developing countries (for example, greater employment opportunities and higher wages in cities compared to rural areas).

Dr Davila went on to highlight a number of correlations in the field of urbanisation and prosperity. Strong positive correlations exist between the proportion of population urbanised in an economy and GDP per capita in the country, as well as with life expectancy, rising with the urbanisation rate. Strong negative correlations also exist with child mortality and urbanisation. However, an interesting implication particularly for municipal governments is that tax revenue as a percentage of GDP offers no correlation with an increasing urbanised population. Instead, recovery rates are mostly flat as urbanisation increases. This has significant impacts for municipal governments: with rising urban populations and a flat tax revenue growth rate, the provision of urban services will become more difficult.

A common case study in urbanisation and development is that of Medellin, Colombia. The municipal government of Medellin pursued an innovative approach to the growing urbanisation and pressure on urban services in the city, pursuing formalisation activities contra to new builds and relocation. Space upgrades and the maintaining of the social fabric that had arisen in the cities contributed to a sustainable urbanisation for the city. Mass transit and public rapid transit have been focuses of the municipal government, for example in the construction of escalators between the hillside formerly-informal settlements and the central business district. The formalisation activities have also greatly helped with public buy-in, and public support for the government’s schemes is high.

Medellin, Colombia Escalators

Medellin, Colombia: Escalators from Communa 13 to the CBD – image: wnyc.com

Finally, Dr Davlia returned to the issue of municipal revenue streams and the problem of low taxation returns. Control over local levels of taxation for municipal governments is a key factor for sustainable urban development, and the issue of slipping taxation revenues leading to a downward spiral of non-payment and service degradation has been touched on before in this blog. With the ability to properly target taxation to achieve the municipal government’s social and developmental goals, this spiral can be avoided, and service delivery can improve.