PORT ELIZABETH, Friday November 21, 2008

Public not told all implications of bus system

OPEN letter to all stakeholders about the NMBM bus rapid transport projects:

In the light of objections from the taxi owners, but also through concerns of my own, I have attempted to define a number of concerns over the BRT system, and why the projects should go back to the drawing boards until everyone is satisfied. I am concerned the BRT system is being foisted on the city in great haste because it is being touted as a Fifa requirement for 2010.

Yes, the Fifa requirement is for adequate transport to bring the crowds to the stadium on match day, but Fifa cannot prescribe to any country how it should organise its transport systems. Fifa did not prescribe BRT, government did.

I am concerned there is an element of stealth in the pressure being put on BRT implementation. We are not being told there is a broader objective to curtail urban sprawl, with BRT being one part and densification along transport corridors the other.

From densification the contentious issue of social housing arose. These two concepts have not been linked in press reports.

Is this because together they are on a hidden agenda that could have extensive property implications in the future? On the same agenda is also future ownership and control of the BRT system.

The BRT system will not solve the transport problems of the city and social housing cum densification will lead us to South American style flavellas all over the city. Is that what we want?

Further, I am concerned the BRT system has not been properly explained and if one wants to find out more, there is no readily accessible source where outsiders can go for more information. The NMBM website was recently updated to include a link to the now out-dated NMBM 2006 public transport plan, which few will know about and which does not include ground roots plans or descriptions.

The few pictures of the BRT system that have reached the press do not show the real future, they do not show the new level of congestion that will exist for non-BRT traffic.

I am on the side of the taxi industry, because it has not been properly involved and is not clear on its future other than that a large chunk of its business will be taken away. I am concerned BRT is being muscled in as the cure-all for traffic problems of the future.

I am concerned capacity for general traffic will actually be reduced by the BRT system, this while the motor industry, a cornerstone of our economy, is forecasting and structuring itself around ever increasing volumes in the future. Gridlock has been designed into the BRT system as it currently appears to be planned.

BRT will take some load off general traffic at peak commuting hours, if the service can be made self-attracting, but it will not remove business trips and commercial traffic. BRT‘s main benefit could be to provide a service to those captive to public transport.

I am concerned no attempt is being made to address the arterial flow of general traffic along the main city routes, by employing proven free flow methods. I am concerned the wasteful use of fuel and global warming impact through traffic congestion is not recognised in the PTAP as an issue.

Free flow of traffic uses less fuel and produces fewer pollutants.

I am concerned there are no alternatives for review by all stakeholders. I am concerned there is no equivalent body to the taxi associations shouting for the interests of groups other than the taxis.

The bottom line is that people don‘t really know or cannot visualise what is happening to the road system. I am concerned traffic engineering is carried out basically by the civil engineering profession who are firstly earthworks people, but have the last say on traffic flow.

At the public participation meetings, civil engineers presenting the material said they were not responsible for the traffic movement decisions, they were just implementing the concepts passed on to them. It was not possible to interact with any of them on the traffic flow decisions.

The design of any system with such a wide-ranging impact on the society deserves the inputs from a wider range of contributors.

I am concerned that immense amounts of money are being channelled into the BRT system, including the digging up of perfectly good road surfaces at tremendous cost, when painted lanes could also do the job, as is the case where BRTs are used in other centres around the world.

I am concerned Bogota was selected as the model. Internet photos of Bogota‘s BRT system and satellite views of the city show Bogota lies in a bowl between mountains.

BRTs with four or five lanes for general traffic on both sides combine with an impressive freeway system that runs through this spacious city. Our streets are nowhere that wide and we do not have a freeway system running across the city.

Also our city lies on a plateau cut by ravines, which produces a different character on which to base a road system. All of these concerns are a justification to ask for greater clarity and to hear out the objections from stakeholders, before chopping up all the roads in the city to achieve what might be a hidden political agenda.

Pierre Joubert, Springfield, Port Elizabeth


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