South African bus industry facing competitive threat

South African bus industry given a heads-up

Gautrain Management Agency CEO, Jack van der Merwe, says the South African bus industry should prepare to reduce its carbon emissions, learn to deal with Big Data and prepare for competition from unexpected sources.

Van der Merwe was speaking on day one of the 2017 SABOA Conference and Exhibition for the South African bus and coach industry, in Pretoria.

“This industry will have to reduce its carbon footprint. You will have to start looking at more efficient buses. We’ll need more efficient sources of energy – sustainable sources,” he said.

Big Data also needs bus operator’s attention. “People go about their day with cellphones in their pockets. We know exactly who is getting on and off our buses; where and when they do and what their origins and destinations are.

“The question is: How do we handle all this information? How do we become IT experts within the bus industry?

Van der Merwe cautioned bus operators that they should expect competition in future – from quarters they’d never have thought would exist. “All of a sudden there are new players in the market. And the question is: How do we handle it?

“In terms of Gautrain, we have a major issue around Uber. We have conflicts at the stations; we have people that go from the airport to Sandton and then get an Uber to go home. Our ridership has dropped,” he conceded.

Van der Merwe also referred to Gauteng’s 25-year Transport Masterplan which, he said, predicted that 547 people would move to the province, daily, by 2037.

“As the most populous province, we are predicting 19 million people and 8.6 million workers. We’re going to have to handle around 24 million passenger trips daily.”

Van der Merwe relayed how Gauteng MEC, Paul Mashatile, had said publicly the province would never again build a toll road.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is also losing favour.

“It seems as if Treasury has lost its appetite for investing in BRT. Tshwane’s BRT rollout plan is being pulled back to five kilometres per year.”

He added that, in Tshwane, the centre point of gravity of the city’s population lived 42km from its CBD. “We can’t tell Tshwane to use non-motorised transport.”

He then issued a challenge to the South African bus industry. “You have to come up; you have to step up to the plate. I know the industry is in crisis; I know you have rolling stock that should have been replaced long ago. But the pressure on you will just increase. There has to be a way to find a solution.”

Van der Merwe said the country needed to make three paradigm shifts. This included moving as much motorised transport as possible to non-motorised transport, even though the spatial distortion made this challenging; moving from private car use to public transport, and moving freight from road to rail.

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