Can micro-transport address South Africa’s transport challenges?

If anything, 2020 has revealed the power of innovative thinking to solve unexpected challenges, at speed, showing just what can be achieved with good doses of determination, collaboration, and decisiveness, write Ivan Reutener and Gideon Treurnich, transport and mobility experts at Royal HaskoningDHV.

If South Africa has so far managed a global pandemic effectively, on short notice and with limited resources, the country should solve one of its biggest challenges – that of access to transport – effectively too, by following through on planned initiatives, and expanding on pandemic-emerged solutions.

While government is investing in road infrastructure for conventional forms of transport such as cars, taxis and trucks, investing in infrastructure for micro-transport solutions could help reduce costs for individuals, create jobs, and reduce carbon emissions too – helping South Africa achieve its commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and job creation– and here’s how.

First- and last-mile mobility

While South African cities have formal and informal transport networks, these are bound by structures like train- and bus stations and minibus taxi routes, compelling users to walk long distances for the first or last mile of their journeys.

Electric bicycles or scooters for hire could take the hassle out of that first or last part of the journey, and save time too, along with bike sharing and renting businesses.

Royal HaskoningDHV recently partnered with the University of Pretoria in a trial bike-sharing project that set out to show students an alternative to travelling short distances by car or public transport. The project used 10 pedal bikes and 10 electric bikes, each fitted with tracking technology, and students and staff used a basic mobile phone app to find, reserve, and pay to rent a bike to travel around the Hatfield campus and surrounding areas.

Before the pilot, three quarters of survey respondents walked everywhere, while 13 percent travelled by car. After being introduced to the bike-sharing concept, bicycle use increased by 26 percent, and only eight percent said that they still used cars.

The project has been so successful that it’s being expanded –because students have a cheaper form of transport than cars, and carbon emissions have been reduced around the campus.

Make your motorbike – and your bike – your business

While ride-hailing apps like Bolt and Uber have allowed tens of thousands of car drivers to build their own businesses, they’ve also shown that motorbike riders can do the same thing, with the rapid increase in popularity of motorbike-based food and grocery delivery services like MrD and Checkers Sixty60.

With the surge in online shopping in South Africa during lockdown months, particularly in grocery and food categories, South Africans are more accustomed to the convenience of online shopping for everything from medication to technology, and adoption is likely to increase. That’s great news for motorbike drivers, whose delivery skills and services are only going to be in greater demand.

Bicycles could also be used for deliveries, but vending bikes also present an opportunity for micro-entrepreneurs and job creation. They can be customised to store different types of food, with so much more potential than the ice cream sellers in the park that are already so familiar.

Electric cargo bikes are another alternative for delivery drivers, and with some models able to carry up to 200kg of cargo. They’re typically quicker through traffic than a car, are cheaper to buy and run than a motorbike, and they’re kinder to the environment. They could also be a great solution for the informal recycling community.

Step up safety

With 40 percent of South Africa’s road deaths being pedestrians, the imperative for finding ways for people to move around more safely than walking and more affordably than conventional transport methods becomes even clearer. With South Africa’s roads being among the least safe in the world, safety is a significant concern for motorcyclists and cyclists.

National and provincial governments should collaborate to create a cycling culture, which could include early interventions such as implementing a cycling ‘licence’ qualification for children as young as 12, teaching them road and cycling safety.

While many might be concerned that theft would be a deterrent to bicycle ownership, setting up bike garages in CBDs would help with storage during the day, and cost-effective tracking devices would discourage theft too. It’s also worth noting that bicycle theft is a global issue that’s not deterred the adoption of cycling – in a country like The Netherlands, where commuter cycling is particularly popular, having your bike stolen is almost a rite of passage.

At Royal HaskoningDHV, we have already collaborated with the City of Johannesburg in designing its first complete Cycle Design Manual, a strategy for co-creating a cycling infrastructure network that supports the City of Johannesburg’s Department of Transport’s ‘Complete Streets’ approach. The South African National Department of Transport has also recently updated its non-motorised transport (NMT)guidelines, which guided our development of the SMART NMT assessment tool that helps local and provincial governments plan NMT strategies.

Our global experience has revealed the potential that micro-mobility solutions made possible by two-wheeled motorised, electric, or human-propelled vehicles have for making roads safer, creating jobs, and oiling the wheels of the economy.

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