While the City of Joburg’s Ecomobility Festival can be termed a success from an organisational perspective, true transport alternatives have not been established for the majority of commuters.
The Ecomobility Festival that took place in Sandton during the month of October created awareness about the public transport alternatives to private car use in the commercial heart of South Africa. While individuals and businesses adapted during the festival, it remains to be seen whether the awareness created will convert to lasting behaviour change.
The numbers of people using the park-and-ride facilities to get to Sandton had grown from 100 at the beginning of the month to 600 by the middle of the month, with peaks on some days of over 700 commuters. On the first few days of the festival, the Gautrain recorded a 7,7% passenger increase on its train trips, and recorded its highest Monday passenger trip count with 60,120 passengers using the service.
“The growing participation and response shows people are integrating new ways to move around Sandton into their lifestyles, shifting from private cars to public transport,” said Elaine Jack, City Improvement District Manager for Sandton Central Management District (SCMD), during the festival.
Over and above people trying new, better, and more environmentally respectful ways of getting around Sandton as part of this global event, it seems many drivers are taking time to plan their trips in advance and understand the changes to the roads
However, feedback from residents and commuters suggests that this planning was done out of necessity and won’t become a permanent alternative to car use.
“It certainly did ease traffic in the heart of Sandton, as people who worked there found alternative methods of travel into the area,” says Sarah Steel, a Stella Street resident. “However, it cost us more money getting to and from our home. Getting stuck in the minimal traffic lanes and waiting for building works on 5th Street upped our petrol costs substantially by an extra third of a tank a week.”
Anthony de la Cour, who works on Rivonia Road, which was not closed off for the festival, says that there were no major changes to his routine, other than dealing with more congestion than usual. He uses the Gautrain as a transport alternative periodically, but doesn’t view it as a permanent solution.
“The Gautrain is not viable long term for me. It’s nice to skip the Rosebank to Sandton leg of my commute, but it’s expensive and to leave my car at the Rosebank station every day would add to the cost. It’s not viable for my wife to pick me up and drop me off every day.”
And Tracy Burrows, also a resident, says that while she is in full support of the concept of ecomobility, she feels that a lot more changes would have to be made for it to be viable for Sandton commuters.
“The public transport system is going to have to come to the party if the city’s planned commuter transport changes are going to work in the long term,” she says. “There still aren't enough safe and affordable buses and trains, and they need to run until much later in the evening than they currently do.”
This article originally appeared in Neighbourhood, Sunday Times.