Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “public transport”

Why I went off the Gautrain

When the Gautrain first began running between Pretoria and Johannesburg, I was very impressed by it, and thought it was the best way of travelling. It was fast, convenient, comfortable and reasonably priced. It saved the hassle of driving in traffic.

Gautrain at Hatfield station, Pretoria, July 2014

Gautrain at Hatfield station, Pretoria, July 2014

So if I had to attend a meeting in Johannesburg, and the venue was accessible from a Gautrain station, I took the train in preference to driving. This was particularly useful in the December holiday season, 15 December to 15 January, when the price of the buses and parking were reduced.

But then I began to notice that it was always costing me more than I thought it did. I would put enough money in the card to cover the cost of my trip and a bit more, so that the next time I rode on the train I could pay when I got off the train rather than when I got on. But when leaving the parking garage, the machine briefly flashed the remaining balance, which was always lower than I expected.

Eventually I got a printout of my last few journeys, and noticed that there was an extra R20 being added to the cost of every journey. The fare between Hatfield and Rosebank is advertised as about R49 in off-peak periods, but it actually cost R69.00, because  of the extra R20.00 being added every time. The reason for this extra charge is not explained in the fare tables.

So the last time I needed to travel to a meeting in Johannesburg, I added up the fares, parking charges, bus fares, and the extra R40.00, and it came to R160.00, and that didn’t look reasonable at all. I decided to go by car instead. The distance by car is 60 km, 120 km return. The cost of the petrol for such a trip is about R100.00. So without the extra R40.00 charged on the Gautrain, the fare at R120.00 might be competitive, considering wear and tear on the car and the driver. But R160.00 is not competitive at all, and if there is even only one other person travelling, travelling by car wins hands down.

One of the aims of introducing the Gautrain was to get cars off the overcrowded roads, but at those prices, there is no incentive.


The wheels on the bus go round and round

Apart from anything else, I hate travelling on buses with painted-over windows like this.

Wildrose campaign bus raises eyebrows – CBC News:

Alberta’s Wildrose Party confirmed that the questionable placement of party Leader Danielle Smith’s photo on the campaign bus will be changed.

A photo went viral on Twitter Monday shortly after the party unveiled the bus during a pre-election event in Edmonton.

Saving fuel

If it is true that there is enough fuel in the full fuel tank of a jumbo jet to drive the average car four times around the world (hat-tip to 20 Mind Blowing Facts You Probably Didn’t Know) I wonder which has more impact on the environment — driving or flying.

It seems to be a toss-up.

The distance from here to Durban is 600 km, which we could just about make on a tank of fuel. So if 300 people drove to Durban they would travel 180000 km. Four times round the world is 160300 km so for 300 people on a jumbo jet that is about 535 km, so that seems better than going by car.

But that assumes one person, one car. So if there are three people in a car, it would tip the scales in favour of the car.

But then a jumbo jet wouldn’t use a full tank of fuel to go to Durban.

Oh, I give up.

Deteriorating transport infrastructure

potholes warning
One of the things we have noticed in our holiday travels is the deterioration of the transport infrastructure in the country.

In some provinces, notably the Free State and Mpumalanga, the roads are in poor condition, and the Free State roads were particularly bad, full of potholes. The 700 km drive from Clarens to Graaff Reinet was very tiring, because of the concentration needed to drive along the potholed roads, and that was in daylight and in good weather. At night, or if it was raining, it would have been far, far worse. When we reached the Eastern Cape the roads were a lot better, and likewise in the Western Cape. The Free State roads, however, were beginning to resemble those of Albania 10 years ago, where repairs could never catch up, because as soon as one section was repaired, and the road workers moved on to a new section, the newly repaired section began to deteriorate again.

But it wasn’t only the roads; the railways are also deteriorating. Around Villiers in the Free State we saw abandoned railway lines, covered with weeds. There was another abandoned line between Steynsburg and Rosmead in the Eastern Cape, and yet another going north from Graaff Reinet.

weeds on railway tack

The reason for both kinds of deterioration seems to be the deregulation of road transport, which took place about 25-30 years ago, during the privatisation mania of the Reagan-Thatcher years. This led to a huge increase in the number of heavy goods vehicles on the roads, and in many cases the roads were not designed to carry such traffic. Goods that used to be carried by rail now go by road, with a consequent deterioration of both the road and rail infrastructure.

My cousin-in-law in Graaff Reinet, Nick Grobler, told us of a woman he knew who had uterine cancer, and had to go to Port Elizabeth for a hystrerectomy. In the past it was a comfortable overnight train journey, but now, being discharged from hospital within three days, she had to return to Graaff Reinet in a cramped minibus taxi, and though the roads in the Eastern Cape are not (yet) as bad as those in the Free State, it was not a pleasant journey after major surgery.

Trains and individualism

You find some really bizarre stuff on the web but this is one of the strangest I’ve come across yet – on trains and individualism.

Dagny Taggart Wept –

the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

This comes from an article by Paul Krugman Diminished Individualism Watch – commenting on something he wrote earlier about what someone called George Will wrote here: Will: Why Liberals Love Trains – Newsweek. I have no idea who George Will and Paul Krugman are, and I came across this series via theMiss Eagle Daily, a digest of tweets from a fellow blogger I follow on Twitter.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for George Will’s doubts about the usefulness of high-speed trains. The Gautrain is due to come into operation later this year, and it has been a pretty expensive exercise. It is supposed to provide high-speed connections between Johannesburg, Pretoria and the airport.

But I cannot help remembering an earlier high speed train attempt, the Metroblitz of the 1980s. It required an expensive upgrading of the existing line between Johannesburg and Pretoria — the one via Germiston. But by 1995 the train had been abandoned, and the coaches were lying, forlorn, vandalised and abandoned in a siding at Koedoespoort.

This picture shows the interior of the vandalised coaches. But a couple of years later most of the bodywork had gone too.

We rode on the Metroblitz once, when we had just bought our present house, and had to visit lawyers in downtown Johannesburg to sign some transfer documents. It seemed easier to go by train than look for parking in Johannesburg. But to get the Metroblitz we had to take a train from Sportpark in Lyttelton to the centre of Pretoria, because the Metroblitz did not stop at Sportpark. It went non-stop from city centre to city centre. It took 45 minutes, as opposed to the hour-and-ahalf of the regular trains.

Perhaps the Gautrain will improve on that. At least it has intermediate stops, and in places that people actually want to go to.

So yes, I have my doubts about high-speed trains.

The real problem with George Will’s article is not his doubts about the economic viability of high-speed trains; it is the ignorant ideological claptrap that surrounds it. As Klugman points out: Dagny Taggart Wept – “But anyway, it’s amazing to see Will — who is not a stupid man — embracing the sinister progressives-hate-your-freedom line, more or less right out of Atlas Shrugged; with the extra irony, of course, that John Galt’s significant other ran, well, a railroad.”

And then there is Will’s Orwellian doublespeak of the “war is peace and peace is war” variety, when he ascribe to liberals a desire to destroy individualism and promote collectivism. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of history would know that the rise of liberalism cannot be separated from the rise of individualism. Perhaps George Wills is not a stupid man, but if he expects people to buy this “wet is dry and dry is wet” argument, he is either remarkably ignorant, or expects his readers to be.

Neil Clark: Why we should nationalise our airports

The privatisation mania of the 1980s keeps coming back to bite us, especially in the matter of public transport and communications.

Neil Clark: Why we should nationalise our airports:

“‘The government’s objective with this bill is to liberate airport management from political interference … to enable airport operators to respond to the needs of their customers, rather than to the shifting priorities of politicians and officials,’ declared the Earl of Caithness as he moved the Thatcher government’s 1986 airports bill in the House of Lords, which was soon to become the 1986 Airports Act. The privatisation of the state-owned British Airports Authority (BAA), we were told, would ensure that ‘better services are provided for all airline passengers’.

I wonder if the Earl of Caithness (or even Margaret Thatcher herself), would have the courage to pop down to Hounslow and tell that to the tens of thousands of holidaymakers stranded at the BAA-owned Heathrow airport for the past three days.

I wrote some other stuff here yesterday, which got lost when my internet connection dies, as it has been doing for the last 10 days. Don’t feel like reconstituting it today.

Taxi violence in Britain?

In South Africa, sad to relate, stories of shootings at taxi ranks are all too common, as taxi bosses hire hitmen to take out their rivals. There have even been threats uttered against Johannesburg’s new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, and I believe someone was shot a month or two ago when a new route opened.

Until now I’ve not heard of taxi violence in Britain. But now Sky News is reporting shooting incidents at a taxi rank in Whitehaven (north-west of London, where the 2012 Olympic Games are to be held), which are possibly connected with taxi rivalries. Body Of Suspected Gunman Found After Shootings Across Cumbria | UK News | Sky News:

Police have found a body believed to be that of Derrick Bird, who was being hunted over shootings across the Lake District.

The body was found in a wooded area near Boot, where Bird, 52, had abandoned his car.

Police hunting Bird found a gun in the area where the body was discovered.

Local reports are putting the number of fatalities in the shooting spree as high as 10, including one person killed in Duke Street, Whitehaven.

It hasn’t been confirmed yet that it is taxi-related violence, but that is what some people seem to be saying.

In South Africa the taxi “industry” is one of the finest examples of the unfettered free market in actiion, with minimal government regulation. It’s a free-for-all out there, the nearest thing to laissez faire you can find. If there is a serious incident, in which 5 or more people are killed, the government does get involved, to the extent of trying to broker a peace deal between the rival taxi bosses, rather as they are trying to do between ZANU-PF and the MDC in Zimbabwe.

Itn’t capitalism marvellous?

An integrated transport system for Gauteng

An integrated transport system for Gauteng came one step closer with the establishment of the Gauteng Transport Management Authority, and the announcement of a single ticketing system being developed for public transport in Gauteng.

city of johannesburg – One ticket system plan for Gauteng:

A SINGLE ticket system is being rolled out that will make using public transport across Gauteng a whole lot easier.

The system, similar to London’s Oyster Card – a form of electronic ticketing used on public transport services within the Greater London area – is being rolled out by the Gauteng Transport Management Authority (GTMA), a new transport management body.

‘The single ticketing system will see travellers being transported seamlessly and with much ease around the province,’ said Eezi Raboroko, the chief director of transportation management in the province, at the GTMA launch, on Thursday, 9 October.

This is something that has been long overdue, and I wonder about the timing of the announcement — just after the removal of Mbhazima Shilowa as Premier of Gauteng. It has been very much Shilowa’s baby, and he is one of those who pushed hardest for it.

Trolley buses

Real Estate Weekly:

After years of neglect and operational sabotage, city bean counters and Edmonton Transit administrators have finally succeeded in their obsessive quest to pull the plug on the city’s 70-year-old trolleybus system. Last month, they finally got a majority on council that was gullible enough to swallow the misinformation that trolleybuses are a technology of the past, not a way to a cleaner and greener future.

While municipalities around the world are expanding their electrically-powered public transit fleets, Edmonton city council voted seven-to-six to begin the process of dismantling the city’s trolleybus network by 2010. Instead, they’ll abandon proven trolley technology and buy 47 diesel hybrid buses that have an uncertain lifespan, burn more fossil fuels and spew more emissions at street level.

Gauteng municipalities made similar short-sighted decisions more than 30 years ago, and both Pretoria and Johannesburg lost their trolley buses.

Johannesburg trolley buses

This morning I had a phone call from SABC Radio 2000. They are doing a series of broadcasts on transport, and tomorrow they are doing trolley buses, and somehow they found my trolley bus web page, so they want to interview me tomorrow.

Well, that’s rather nice. I’m happy to talk about trolley buses, though they haven’t been seen in South Africa for the last 25 years or so. They are still going strong in other parts of the world, and the fleet in Athens was entirely renewed for the 2004 Olympic Games.

The Johannesburg trolley buses shown in the picture are not nearly as fancy and modern as the new Athens ones. The one on the left is a BUT Series II, which joined the fleet about 1956-1958, and the one on the right is an Alfa Romeo-Ansaldo, which came about 1959. At the time the Ansaldos were among the biggest city passenger buses in the world, with a capacity of about 112 passengers.

Our provincial premier, Mbhazima Shilowa, likes to talk about an integrated and holistic transport plan for Gauteng, and initiated the Gautrain rapid rail project. But that on its own will do little to reduce the traffic congestion on the roads. The train needs to have other forms of transport feeding it, and I wish that trolley buses formed part of that plan.

It would be good to see a network of trolley bus routes spreading out from each station on the Gautrain routes, getting people from the trains to work or home, and meeting with minibus taxis further out. The thing to bear in mind is the road space occupied by a double-decker trolley bus and a minibus taxi, to reduce the congestion around the stations.

And even more important would be to do a transport survey of Gauteng, to find where people live, and where they work, and how they travel between those places at present. Only then can a truly integrated transport plan begin to take shape.

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