Setting sustainable public transport in motion in South Africa

05 Dec 2011

imageUNDP's efforts contributed to developing non-motorised transport routes for use by pedestrians and cyclists in smaller South African cities such as Polokwane. (Photo: UNDP)

High travel demand for private cars and mini-bus taxis make transport the second-largest greenhouse gas emission source in South Africa, where urban areas are characterized by low residential densities and long travel distances, which particularly affect the low incomes sector of society.

Fuel use by the South African transport sector is estimated to increase by 54 percent between 2005 and 2015 and sixty percent in the subsequent decade to 2025. To address this issue, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) provided a grant of US$11 million to reduce the transport sector’s carbon footprint. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provided implementation assistance for the project, which was carried out to support the provision of improved public transport services and non-motorised transport infrastructure in seven selected cities.

The South African Department of Transport used the 2010 FIFA World Cup as an opportunity to improve the country’s public transport system. Seventy percent of South African households do not have access to a car and are dependent on public transport, which is dominated by mini-bus taxis. These vehicles carry 63 percent of public transport work trips, while buses carry a further 22 percent.

The project assisted, for example, with the implementation of two higher passenger capacity, fuel-efficient diesel bus operations: the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system in Johannesburg and the Nelson Mandela Bay Rapid Public Transport system. These systems provided transport for spectators to 2010 FIFA World Cup match venues and now are meeting daily commuter needs.

The project also supported a high-occupancy vehicle lane in Mbombela and assisted with building a pedestrian over-bridge which linked the Free State Stadium to a popular pedestrian route and contributed to developing non-motorised transport routes for use by pedestrians and cyclists in the smaller cities of Rustenburg and Polokwane.

Green house emission reductions for these interventions are estimated at 423,000 tonne of CO2 equivalent over a 10-year period. If these interventions are replicated in other South African cities, the savings are expected to increase to approximately 2 million tonne CO2 equivalent.