Committee Report: Study Tour to Latin America

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14 June 2006
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

14 June 2006

Mr J P Cronin (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Draft Report of the Transport Portfolio Committee’s Study Tour to Argentina and Colombia 26 April – 7 May 2006

Draft Report on Budget Hearings of the Portfolio Committee on Transport

The Committee considered its report on a study tour to Latin America, in particular the cities of Buenos Aires in Argentina and Bogota in Colombia to view public transport systems. It felt that many of the institutional and regulatory innovations in these cities could be applied to multi-modal transport systems in South Africa while having regard to the different conditions existing here.


Committee Report on study tour to Argentina and Colombia

The Chairperson briefed Members on the recent study tour to Argentina and Colombia, particularly Buenos Aires and Bogotá. The five-member delegation included a senior official from the Department of Transport.

It was the Committee’s view that insufficient progress had been made since 1994 in realising the key objective of providing safe, affordable accessible, inter-modal public transport in South Africa. There were high levels of household dissatisfaction with public transport, including serious safety, access and affordability issues.

Buenos Aires and Bogotá were chosen for their potential relevance to South African challenges. In both cases, until fairly recently, public transport was dominated by individually-owned buses grouped together in associations and operating in a relatively lawless and sometimes violent manner pursuing competition, fighting on the road for passengers, and bus company owners would attend bus association meetings armed. Given the presence of important rail infrastructure and commuter rail services in most of our major cities, the fact that Buenos Aires restructured its rail system in the early 1990s was an additional reason for selecting Buenos Aires and seeking to assess the success of their rail restructuring.

Bogotá’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) TransMilenio project has been widely heralded and emulated internationally and was the inspiration for the proposed Klipfontein Corridor project in Cape Town.

The Committee’s principal focus was on the institutional arrangements, the interface between public and private sector entities, the regulatory frameworks, the funding and business plans of the respective transport operations, and the place of public transport within the wider context of integrated planning and development.

A lot of South Africans had gone to Bogotá to look at the TransMilenio buses. The reports were interesting but they tended to look at the buses and the platforms and the technology. Those buses and platforms could not be transplanted to Klipfontein and expected to work as the space was different, and the number of people travelling would be far less. The question was how to get decent, integrated public transport affordable for a third world country. In Bogotá there were no operational subsidies but they managed to provide low cost public transport. South Africa’s problem was institutional funding, business plans and regulatory issues.

Buenos Aires
The first part of the report dealt with Buenos Aires and the Committee was grateful to the embassies in Argentina and Columbia for giving them access to high-powered ministers and key people.

Buenos Aires was an autonomous city with the same kind of powers as the provinces in South Africa, but was also part of the state of Buenos Aires and had huge problems as to who was in charge of what. Passenger usage was roughly 70% buses, 20% trains and 7-8% subway. There were not many mini buses but there were some running charter services for the wealthy elite. The subway system was very interesting, sometimes resorting under the city and sometimes under national authority. It had taken fifteen years to complete 3,5 kilometres of extension and had to be very heavily subsidised.

The big public transport system in Buenos Aires was the privately owned buses; of which some were registered with the province, some with the city. Over the last two decades very significant changes and improvements had taken place. Owner-drivers had been controlling routes, and often used strong-arm methods, including shooting at people. These have now been converted into formal private companies (shareholders) in a company that tendered for a particular route.

Public entities regulate the bus operations, stipulating frequency, quality of vehicles, and a six-monthly vehicle check, and inspectors were deployed daily onto the networks. Concessions were for ten years, renewable. The SA Department of Transport was planning to introduce a national ticketing operation.

Ms K Mamama (Department of Transport) clarified that there would be certain regulatory type standards. The department was interested in the data to have some control at national level.

Mr Cronin continued that they tried to introduce a magnetic card ticketing system to be used on all buses operating within the system, but it had been a failure. Early in the morning the card dispensing units were not staffed and ran out of tickets.

Bus companies were still regulated and monitored by city and province and inspectors travelling on the route but the companies themselves ran their operations. There were numbers of owners or shareholders but the company allocated times and kilometres to particular buses and participants and there was therefore a lot of internal competition. It was in their interests to ensure they ran their route well and this put a lot of pressure on their members to keep their buses clean and well maintained and it was in the interests of their members because the profits would then be allocated according to who had been running the route. There was thus a lot of internal competition not on the route but inside the company that had that route.

Mr B Mashile (ANC) asked who provided the contract, the municipality or government?

Mr Cronin clarified that the awarder of the contracts would be either the city government or the provincial government, two authorities operating within the same city. Companies formally constituted as bus companies would tender for the route and in order to win the route would need to show that that bus was clean, was capable of providing a service and carrying X number of passengers, 90 000 passenger trips in the morning and 90 000 trips in the evening. Buses all looked the same, having the name of the company and the number of a route. They managed the system and allocated kilometres and trips to different buses for the week or the day, and it seemed to work.

Ms Mamama added that they also scheduled timetables that were equitably distributed to the different operators. All operators belonging to the company had access to maintenance, garaging, and other things. It was a very interesting model. The bus companies came with a model but the state or the city would turn that model into law.

Mr Cronin clarified that everyone in the company was a shareholder. Not all shareholders would necessarily have buses. There were also non-bus entities investing in these companies because there was money to be made, or one could come in and purchase shares, such as a bank could come with an injection of money.
Until very recently buses in Argentina provided a major service and were not subsidised at all. In 2002 with the financial crisis in Argentina, the peso was devalued and the government froze all public service fees, except salaries and wages. Petrol and oil costs had gone up. The bus companies were now receiving a subsidy that they insist was not a subsidy but compensation for delays in tariff increases based on costs.

There was also an underground rail system, and passenger rail that was a bit like Shosholoza Rail, a very important way of communications with rural towns. They were all connected from Bogotá. The rail system was privatised in the early 1990s. Freight was more profitable than passenger and freight took precedence. If the privatisation route was followed, government would have to be even stronger with regulatory laws. Lots of fairly large towns became ghost towns because there was not a connection with the mother city.

The delegation did not expect the Buenos Aires system to be “wonderful” but it was much better than anything seen in South African cities. SA had a real problem, but the trip showed that cities could turn their problems around.

The delegation was very warmly received by the Colombian National Minister of Transport and other high-ranking officials. The Committee also travelled on the TransMilenio system and cycled around poor neighbourhoods on the extensive dedicated bike- and pedestrian-ways that were an integral part of Bogotá’s public mobility infrastructure. Dr Enrique Penalosa, a former mayor who was instrumental in driving the TransMilenio project in its inception phase, informed the Committee that a market with poor households and rich households did not mean that other things have to be as unequal. They tried to create a city where there were poor areas and rich areas but there were also areas where people came together, united and had equality.

They were doing three key things – to create or restore public spaces, parks, walkways, and cycle ways. They had constructed 350 kms which link up and one can cycle from one end of the city to the other. 400 000 people were cycling daily – children going to school safely, workers going to work, housewives doing their shopping. There was a war on cars. Cars consume a city. There were bollards so cars could not get onto the pavements and pavements were comfortable and safe.

They had traffic demand management with particular focus on cars. Only 15% of households use their cars to get to work, before they started the change cars were using up 42% of the road space, and they were trying to reduce that. There was a civil war in Colombia but more people were dying from road accidents than from the civil war. Among the traffic management measures were that a vehicle was not allowed on the roads at rush hour for two days of the week, the days for a particular car were stated on the licence plate. This was a system used in many cities in an attempt to encourage people to use public transport. There were also car free days, which worked. On weekends and public holidays whole lanes were off-limits to cars.

The perception in the Third World that a car was the height of being modern and advanced and developed was wrong. In developed cities such as Zurich, 50% of trips were non-motorised, while in New York only 10% of people used their cars to go to work. The tendency in most cities was for public transport to deteriorate, and for the areas around the major stations to become dilapidated. The solution was to have good public spaces around it and bicycle and pedestrian ways in Bogotá were connected to the TransMilenio system. The Committee visited an extensive bicycle lock up facility in one of the major terminal stations on the TransMilenio system.

Mr Mashile referred to the nature of the traffic jams they had seen, and changing a street into one direction only. The way it changed over was so well done and gave a good explanation as to why this transport system was successful.

Mr Cronin agreed; traffic jams in Johannesburg were nothing compared to that. Traffic jams were not bad because provided all the other things were done, they would encourage people to use public transport. Building more lanes etc. just made the problem bigger. In order to manage the problem, more roads should not be built. The solution was to have decent public transport.

The TransMilenio Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System
The TransMilenio BRT was one of 83 BRT systems that had been developed recently in cities throughout the world. The pioneering system was developed in Brazil but the Bogotá BRT has become a new benchmark. BRTs were essentially bus systems that borrow many of the infrastructural and operating features of commuter or subway rail systems. However, the infrastructural costs were estimated by the World Bank to be some 70 to 100 times less than rail infrastructure. Buses were more expensive than rail, but they had flexibility. The reason the line to Khayelitsha had not been extended was that Khayelitsha was growing fast and every year there were another 100 000 people, and rail battled to keep up.

Bogotá went for a medium system and took the two inner lanes so buses operate up and down the centre of the freeway. They had a freeway such as the N2 with two lanes dedicated for buses and these lanes were sealed off with concrete blocks. Another feature of the Bus Rapid Transit system was that they operated like trains with platforms and stations. The bus floors and platforms were level and were disability and bike friendly, and so were the bridges to get to the stations. 10 000 people with disabilities used the system every day. They were also very good for speed. The buses were articulated and took 160 passengers. They have big doors and can embark/disembark 100 passengers in 20 seconds. It worked like a train system but buses were much cheaper. They also had express buses that did not stop at all stations.

Mr O Mogale (ANC) asked whether this system would be better than the Gautrain.

Mr Cronin responded that it would not be as fast, and we would want to build a system like this from Soweto to Park Station. These systems get people to work, or where they were going, safely, quickly and cheaply.

TransMilenio owned the infrastructure, but was not an operator and did not set tariffs. This was set by the city’s Transit and Transport Department. TransMilenio was a public company 70% owned by the municipality. There were also other shareholders who were part of the broad municipality. Land was cheap, but not for housing, which was usually along the route so they would make some profit. TransMilenio had 280 staff, of which about 180 were out on the roads checking whether the buses were punctual, were clean, road worthy, and that drivers were concentrating. They were also monitoring through a satellite tracking system and there was a control centre for the system. Companies were paid according to kilometres travelled, not according to the number of passengers.

Operators were private bus companies and had to tender for a certain number of kilometres on a particular trunk road. A few years ago buses were the main form of public transport and five families with corrupt linkages with licensing officers controlled all the bus routes. They would own the route and then rent the route to private bus companies.

The route was owned by the city. They busted corruption by setting up a clean company with a controller, regulator, and manager of the route and called for tenders. They taught the warlords to become formalised companies owning buses, and they had to acquire buses. They were required to scrap old buses. They brought in small operators as well and made them shareholders. The scrapping allowance was not provided by government but by the consortium and so the owner operators could then become shareholders of the consortium. They therefore managed to integrate the players on the field and bring in new players as well.

It was very interesting that for three or four major routes they would have tenders for those trunk routes but would award the contract not to one company but to two or three, each having a percentage of the kilometres on that route going to those companies. So on a weekly basis, kilometres were awarded to different buses and also to different companies within the system. If drivers were found to be at fault in any way, then that company would be fined but the fine was not a cash payment but a kilometre deduction and those kilometres would be awarded to another company. There was competition, but it was not cutthroat competition and it was monitored and regulated through inspection and performance.

Another private company who won the tender did fare collection. A trust company collected all the money and distributed according to the contractual arrangements. The city only got 4% because were trying to attract the private sector.

There were no operating subsidies whatsoever. The tickets cost 1 000 pesos (around R3, 00) for a single ticket that can take you anywhere in the system, regardless of distance.

Mr Cronin said there were valuable lessons to be drawn from the TransMilenio project. Many of the institutional and regulatory innovations could feasibly be applied to integrated multi-modal public transport systems in South Africa (including rail and minibuses). The problem was adaptation. It would be interesting to look at the regulatory business and financing model. It need not be a BRT, could be Metrorail or Golden Arrow.

They did have some advantages that South Africa did not. In 1947 a political uprising burnt down half of Bogotá and so they had to rebuild. They did not have strong provinces; they had very strong militia and strong mayors and municipalities. This project was driven by a very strong mayor and strong city council.

They had a presidential system. There had been a lot of instability but they had managed to stabilise the country. In Bogotá there was a high level of security on the buses, military service conscription and young graduates from the police or army college were deployed on the system. Traffic officers were part of safety and security and the city itself had powers like the province.

Ms W Ngwenya (ANC) asked what South Africa could copy from them.

Mr Cronin responded that that was the key question. The report would be tabled and he would be sending it to other Ministers apart from Transport.

Mr Mogale asked what lessons the Committee had learnt for getting people from Soweto to Johannesburg and from Khayelitsha to the Green Point Stadium.

Ms Mamama had some further comments to add to the report. From a capacity point of view –development, implementation, delivery of public transport transformation, even national playing a supportive role at local level, South African municipalities were very weak and had to be carried by the national level. It was about the aspects and elements that could work, such as taxis, and focusing on them, making sure there were attractive stations and facilities, the application of IT technology, such as on time on board information.
We also had to make sure we had land use, land development, parking, and implement these policies.

The Department was currently finalising the public transport strategy and were trying to include some of the interesting features from a government point of view. A key one was the area of regulation. Considering the experience of South America, all was not done in a day but we needed to start somewhere.

Mr Mashile added the most important thing in Bogotá was that they were also intending to build more on the outer terminals of the system to try and make sure that those that were coming in from outside did not have any means of driving in and could only access the city from the bus system, which meant good traffic management.

Ms N Khunou (ANC) agreed that we need more regulated transport that was user friendly, especially for the disabled.

Mr Moss referred to the transport system for Mpumalanga and Northwest and asked the size of the buses. He was very happy with accessibility for the disabled. He asked the reason for using fewer cars, was it because of pollution, environmental concern or because of little space in the cities? If the rail system was declining it should be beefed up again and made safer.

Mr Cronin responded that the TransMilenio system used articulated buses seating 160 people; they run a scheduled service, on time, and for twenty-four hours. Our buses wait till they fill up because they get paid by the fares; whereas here the buses were getting paid to run the service and were making more profit. It worked better for their commuters and was safer and more efficient.

The impression was the system was very accessible and they had put a lot of effort into accessibility and the infrastructure was more important than the vehicle itself. For the price of a ticket one got a locker, and even bike lock-ups so one could cycle in the dedicated cycle lanes, and it certainly looked very safe.
There were fewer cars, while the number of cars was roughly the same proportion as ours, they were trying to decrease the usage of the car for safety reasons and to create more space for pedestrians and cyclists and address the congestion. This was also critical for pollution.

They hardly had a rail system. Buses were a more flexible system as they could do 45 000 bus trips per direction per hour. South Africa had to integrate its rail system with this type of system.

Ms Ngwenya asked how long the construction programme took.

Mr Cronin responded three years from planning to construction and running. Stations were built in two days.

Mr Mogale asked what types of engines were used and what lessons were drawn for South Africa, especially dealing with trucks from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

Mr Cronin responded that they also had a truck problem. Rail had been overtaken by road freight, with the problems of pollution and traffic jams.

Mr Mogale felt it was very important that the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs was checking South Africa’s readiness for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Transport was supposed to have sent a delegation.

Mr Cronin responded that the Committee would watch the 2010 process.

Mr Mashile said SA was already behind in 2010 preparations.

Mr Cronin responded that Germany always had fantastic transport anyway. We could certainly go and look and learn, but we were a third world country and it was also a part of celebrating diversity.

Mr Cronin proposed to include in the report Ms Mamama’s suggestion to look at the role of the national Department of Transport; and some of the interesting features the delegation saw on the TransMilenio system such as real time information and other information systems making the system user friendly. He would prefer not to make recommendations and proposed to make the suggestions informally, interacting with MECs and using this interaction as a way of influencing people.

In the next six months the Committee had to focus on the road safety issue, fatalities, and to gear the public transport system up for 2010. Next week the Automobile Association would be speaking about safety issues. The Committee should pull together a set of formal recommendations for the September/October debate about the Department’s Annual Report. He wanted to know what was happening with the Gautrain and Metrorail, and use some of the ideas from this and recommend the BRT system. Towards the end of the year a comprehensive position on concerns and the way forward for the public transport challenge should be formulated. The Committee would work with the Department on this.

The meeting adjourned.



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