There is a saying that an army is always preparing to fight the last war. It is then surprised if in a new conflict, it finds that the strategy and equipment it encounters on the battlefield has changed.
This often seems to be the case with government. It relies for its planning on the experiences of the past – what worked, and what went wrong.
Last week Cabinet approved for public consultation the Draft Revised White Paper on National Transport Policy:
The proposals on Public Transport appear to make no mention, or take any account, of the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) on which the world, including South Africa, is now well embarked.
4IR will bring about profound changes in the world of work – and on the transport needs of the future workforce.
The effects of the changes will become apparent in the coming years. They cannot, however, be predicted at this stage.
Transport policy in the next few years should therefore:
- Be very careful about investment in fixed-track mass transit systems such as Gautrain, Metrorail and Bus Rapid Transit, whilst the implications of 4IR become apparent.
- encourage the development and use of small-vehicle flexible public transport such as the minibus-taxi and new systems such as Uber.
The taxi should be encouraged to continue its current role as the major provider of commuter services, whilst the new 4IR travel pattern emerges.
The standards of operation of the taxi are, however, not what would be expected of the core element of a modern integrated public transport system.
The Draft Revised White Paper has this to say about the taxi:
“The Government will investigate the feasibility of……providing assistance to the [taxi] industry to consolidate its thousands of individual operators, each owning one or two taxis, into companies operating fleets of taxis. The consolidation of operators will……… improve the imposition, monitoring and enforcement of service requirements….”.
This is a promising approach both to making the taxi more orderly and equipping itself to diversify its commuter market. It is a policy that should be vigorously pursued.