Happenings in Johannesburg on 4 June have led us to our new favourite buzzword: ‘meaningful mobility’.
It was said by during a presentation to South Africa’s Competition Commission leadership by transport analyst Paul Browning on the 4th as part of an official enquiry into the country’s land-based public passenger transport market, focussing on informal busses and minibus taxis specifically.
In fact, he is not the first person to use to the term. ‘Meaningful mobility’ was initially a term associated with mobile phones when it was the name of an academic paper authored by Jo Tacchi, Kathi R. Kitner and Kate Crawford in 2012. It has since then been taken up by transport innovators overseas like Breakthrough Brands, Amtrak and Ridecell.
Browning was just one was several delegates that had sad news of the state of our mobility here in SA: from 4 to 8 June (when the public hearing was held), thse speaking near-unanimously gave accounts of escalating violent crime on commuter trains and violence among minibus-taxi operators, violent clashes between metered-taxi operators and e-hailing services, and near-universal unreliability and inadequacy of all commuter services.
The general consensus of the Competition Commission’s public hearing speakers? We are not competitive.
Browning, who represents the National Transportation Task Team (NTTT), blames the failure of commuter systems on municipalities for poor implementation of transport strategies. This is interesting timing, given that Durban (the municipality of eThekwini) is currently undertaking a large project to make bus services municipal where they have been privatised for several years. Will such criticism discourage on spur on municipal undertakings like this one?
While the reason we’re hearing the words ‘meaningful mobility’ is admittedly a depressing one, it’s still a great term. At GoMetro, we are always thinking about the latest and greatest innovations in transport – not just here but around the world. But what is the point of that if it doesn’t mean anything?
In SA, I would wager that ‘meaningful mobility’ right now means safety and dependability. Uber drivers are still getting harassed, trains and busses are still running inexplicably late or not at all at time and in some areas women commuters are still nervous of travelling alone. While we love the ideas coming out of places like Finland, we need to also come up with our own solutions specific to SA challenges. What is the point of free WiFi on public busses if the busses themselves seem unsafe? What is the point of automated cars in roads with notoriously reckless and unpredictable minibus taxi behaviour?
GoMetro would propose that there is still plenty potential in these things. We are a country of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. And the City of Cape Town is proof of just how powerful that can be when backed by an efficient municipality. And GoMetro itself is proof of the positive change that can come with a model of cooperation and mutual respect when it comes to engaging with minibus taxi drivers and bosses.
We say: South Africa – alive with possibility.