Cape Town's cunning plan to deal with traffic congestion

Andrew Donaldson says there are no simple solutions to the situation on the southern Peninsula

IN a bid to solve its traffic problems, the City of Cape Town has come up with a cunning plan, and it is simply this: don’t drive your motor car. 

This, the Mahogany Ridge regulars have suggested, was the principal message that mayor Patricia de Lille delivered at this week’s special summit on congestion.

Most news reports dwelt on the R750-million the city wants to spend over the next five years on “road infrastructure projects” to ease traffic woes. De Lille’s comments, however, about campaigns to wean Capetonians off their cars unfortunately appear to have escaped media attention. 

“Most importantly,” she said, somewhat darkly, “our residents will have to change their travel behaviour and attitude towards public transport and non-motorised transport such as walking and cycling.” 

Ah, the ever-present threat of bicycles. No other city on earth bothers its citizens with these contraptions as much as Cape Town does. Soon we shall all be stuffed, like polony sausages, in lycra. For our own good.

Walking, however, we understand. In many cases, it’s quicker than driving to work. Two years ago, Cape Town was found to be South Africa’s most gridlocked city, with a two-hour morning peak traffic period, from 7am to 9am. Two years later, it’s four hours, from 6am to 10am. 

But the mayor has a point. The R750-million won’t buy you much in terms of “road infrastructure projects”. It’s barely three Nkandla upgrades. Clearly something else must happen.  

Take, for example, one of the “pressure points” the city wishes to tackle – the greatly bottlenecked Ou Kaapse Weg. This two-lane mountain pass is the chief thoroughfare between the southern Peninsula and the rest of the city – and it’s a traffic nightmare at any given time of the day.

We blame the city. It was their lunatic decision to let developers run amok in the Deep South without regard for infrastructure. As a result, there are all these hideous clusters springing up – “gated ghetto”, I believe, is the vernacular – and more and more people are moving into the area. 

Which means more and more cars. But the roads can’t take it, and it’s not unheard of that a school run between Kommetjie and Fish Hoek can now take up to two hours. Yet, for all this, there is, mysteriously, so little reliable public transport down there – which is probably why the roads are jam-packed with cars in the first place. 

Nothing will change unless Ou Kaapse Weg is miraculously transformed into a six-lane superhighway overnight. And that won’t happen. Not for R750-million, at least. And, anyway, as De Lille has pointed out, there’s no point in building new roads because that will just mean more cars.

Hence the suggestion of “behavioural change” and all this bold talk of integrating and aligning the city’s bus services with the trains. Which is interesting, as that would entail the city entering into a partnership with the state-owned Metrorail – with the possibility that some of Cape Town’s punctiliously civic fussiness may rub off on Metrorail. 

God knows, but the trains are an ordeal these days. They’re filthy. The carriages are plastered with advertisements for penis enlarging creams and same-day abortion services. The graffiti is terrible, the spelling atrocious. The seats are slashed and there are smelly puddles on the floor. Blind beggars roam the first class coaches showing you their sores and singing about Jesus’ mercy. Gangs of urchins wearing car seat covers masquerade as traditional dance troupes and demand money for jumping up and down. 

Take it from me, this sort of thing doesn’t happen on a MyCITI bus. 

But, speaking of which, whatever happened to the city’s plans to provide free WiFi on the buses? There was much talk of such a service six months ago, and its introduction would greatly incentivise the citizenry to make use of public transport. 

Surfing the internet for pictures of kittens or whatever on the way to work is certainly better than being stuck in a car with nothing but talk radio for company. All that phony outrage from Kieno Kammies? Youll eventually go mad. 

More ominously, the city wants assistance with “expertise and money in finding long-term solutions because in the end, congestion comes at a great economic cost”, as De Lille put it, and will be exploring “more enforcement” on bus and taxi lanes. 

This means more traffic fines – another good reason not to drive.

Should, however, it come down to mandatory car-sharing I am willing to hire out my services as a passenger. My rates will be reasonable, and my chatter not too inane.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.