The Green Transport Strategy released late last year is a promising document that, if implemented correctly, can transform the South African transport system into a functioning, sustainable and reliable network that South Africans can be proud of.
Core to this strategy is that the transport sector contributes its “fair share” to the national efforts to combat climate change. The transport sector is the most rapidly growing source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for 10.8% of emissions in SA, with road transport responsible for 91.2% of that. Continued growth of the transport sector’s GHG emissions is expected to have an increasing impact on biodiversity, air quality, land resources and water quality. The Green Transport Strategy (GTS) aims to convert 5% of the public and national sector fleet to cleaner, alternative fuel and efficient technology vehicles.
In all honesty, the average taxi driver will care as much about these numbers as they would about their latest traffic fine. What taxi operators do care about is running a business, and running it as economically as possible. Taxi operators have been extremely resourceful over the past 60 years. As entrepreneurs and businesspeople, they have always found ways to do things cheaper and – as we all know – quicker. If they are to implement the GTS initiatives into their business, it absolutely has to make business sense for them.
Relying on new technologies, such as electric vehicles for a green transport strategy, is not an answer in itself. A successful, sustainable green transport strategy should incorporate a holistic approach of cleaner vehicles, more efficient fuels, carbon and congestion taxes, incentives (and infrastructure) for motorists to use public and non-motorised transport and education and awareness campaigns, among other things. All these concepts are included in the new GTS.
The GTS wants people to behave differently when it comes to getting around. It wants to align and develop policies that promote energy efficiency and emission control measures in all transport modes and to facilitate the transition towards a climate resilient transport system.
The way I see it, the minibus taxi has a critical role to play in creating a sustainable, green transport system. However, for it to be successful, we need to support it, and more important, invest in its future and incentivise its use by all South Africans.
Where it comes to a green economy, there is a business case to be made for using minibus taxis as the short-distance travel mode of choice for all South Africans – not just the traditional customer base. Firstly, minibus taxis are able to carry more persons than a private car per trip, which would help with decreasing congestion on our roads. Secondly, they are more flexible than larger buses that can only operate on major routes.
Should we take up the lessons from countries like Japan, Chile, Argentina and India – where electric buses are transforming the mass transport systems – we can easily incorporate high quality, efficient electric minibus taxis into our transport system.
These vehicles would have lower noise and air pollution levels than their petrol or diesel counterparts. They can have free wifi and features and safety measures that make them more attractive to customers.
Should, as suggested in the GTS, authorities decide to make certain business areas congestion-free areas, minibus taxis can be exempted from congestion taxes or bans. They can serve as a necessary part of the public transport system by delivering their passengers right to the doorsteps of their workplaces. This will negate the need for private vehicles carrying a single driver congesting the roads.
Minibus taxis are a far more flexible mode of transport and cost less to maintain than buses. Municipalities have invested the majority of funding into buses to turn them into alternative fuel vehicles, even though taxis are responsible for transporting over 70% of our workforce to and from work daily. Taxis can easily be converted to alternative fuel vehicles (such as compressed natural gas). This could lead to the development of a whole new sector of vehicle technicians, which could create a number of much-needed jobs for unemployed youth.
However, these technologies won’t be taken up by taxi operators unless it makes business sense for them. They don’t care whether their vehicle produces more CO2than their closest competitor. What they do care about is whether a technology can benefit their bottom-line.
Electric vehicles still cost between two to three times the initial investment of a petrol or diesel vehicle. Although the operating costs over its lifetime are much lower than the fossil fuel counterparts, it is the initial investment that scares the potential buyer away.
The GTS mentions subsidies for electric vehicles to bring this initial cost down to compete with diesel and petrol vehicles. This would be a critical and urgent step to take and should be implemented as soon as possible. The infrastructure to maintain and charge these vehicles should also be implemented as soon as possible so that taxi operators can be introduced to new technology vehicles – and inspired to change.
One of the ways in which this could be done is to use the current taxi recapitalisation process, which offers R124 000 to taxi owners in return for their unroadworthy vehicle. The recapitalisation could be made conditional on investing the money into an electric or alternative fuel vehicle.
One last benefit of incorporating the taxi industry into the green transport strategy is that, according to the GTS, all vehicles would need to undergo roadworthiness and efficiency tests every three years, and vehicles that have travelled over 400 000km would be banned from our roads. This will give authorities an opportunity to screen and train drivers, and to ensure that they always have the safety of their customers front of mind.
In time, the GTS truly has the ability to transform our country’s taxi fleet into a cleaner, safer and more professional mode of transport, that would benefit all of South Africa, and become the preferred, green mode of transport in our cities.