Is SA on track for public transport?

As transport month rolled around again at the beginning of this month, I have to admit that my view has changed drastically since a recent visit to France and the opportunity to view the efficiency of its public transport system.

While it is difficult to compare two countries that are drastically different from one another in so many ways, it does open up your eyes to where South Africa stands with regards to public transport and where it could be taken.

This past month we've seen and heard various discussions on the subject of public transport and our roads in an equal measure of positive and negatives.

The issue of public transport is not a new issue, but one which government has certainly been grappling with in the last 20 years.

We are not entirely crippled, but we are also not where we could or should be.

The Gautrain and the rapid bus transport system in some of our cities are but just two examples of how government can make commuting easier.

Our major road network systems have improved and it's good to see some of the secondary roads being upgraded.

Gauteng Roads and Transport MEC, Ismail Vadi, says millions of rands are being invested into upgrading roads around the province. This must continue.

More money needs to be invested into our Metro train system. South Africa has purchased millions of rands of new coaches from a French company. That's great.

Lead SA initiated the campaign to name and shame convicted drunk drivers some years ago. It worked wonders in the Western Cape. Red-tape and bureaucracy brought it to a stop. Despite several assurances that it would be extended nationally, the Department of Transport and the Road Traffic Management Corporation have failed to do so.

We need to make our roads safer. Far too many people are being killed in South Africa and there is little regard for laws.

I was invited to France by the French Foreign Ministry and embassy in South Africa, to amongst other reasons, look at their transport infrastructure.

We were taken on trains, trams and buses. We were shown how cycling in cities is becoming increasingly popular.

Cycling should be promoted more locally. Special cycling lanes will spur more and more people on to bicycles, and it also promotes healthy living.

In Paris, they even have driverless trains. Some five million commuters use the Metro trains every day. There are 4,500 public buses in the French capital. By 2020, the tram network will ferry some one million passengers each day.

(By the way, the Gautrain does not plan to go driverless. Also. its extension into other areas of Gauteng is not going to happen overnight.)

There is also adequate infrastructure for electric or so called "green" cars in France.

And yes, like in South Africa, copper/cable theft is a problem in France too.

I also visited the Airbus plant in Toulousse. Seeing the A380 Airbus being assembled was a dream come true. Some 500km of electric cable is used in one Airbus. It was great to see a small part in the A380 which is manufactured in South Africa.

Countries such as France are years ahead of us. We need to continue to invest time, energy and money locally to bring our public transport network up to world standards.

As transport month draws to a close, we must admit to ourselves that the same issues resurface every year. How do we invest our money more effectively for the benefit of citizens? How do we entice investment in our country through world-class infrastructure development? How do we shed the controversy that mars the advancements we make in the transport system?

As citizens we must continue to hold government to account, but we should do so with an understanding of our public transport system. I challenge you to hop on a taxi, a bus, the Gautrain, the Rea Vaya or even cycle to work. Share the experience, the pros, the cons and where we are lacking in growing our public transport system.

Let's get going.

Yusuf Abramjee is a Lead SA activist.