South Africa's Public Transport Market Inquiry: Integrating Modes

Key issues for rivalry between modes of public transport

Mmamoletji Thosago

The Competition Commission of South Africa’s land-based public passenger transport market inquiry, which commenced in June 2017, addresses a range of questions including issues with intermodal transport links. The inquiry relates to excessive short distance passenger transport fares charged by buses, peak season long distance bus fares, operational subsidies disadvantaging operators that are not subsidised, and restricting particular providers to operate in specific areas and routes.  The issues to be considered cut across several public transport modes. The inquiry coincides with the Gauteng provincial government’s plan to expand its high speed train, Gautrain, into two of Gauteng’s largest townships.

The inquiry further arises in the context of contentious rivalry between metered taxis and Uber operators based on specific areas, licensing or route restrictions faced by metered taxis but not faced by Uber, among other factors. Disruptive competition between metered taxi and Uber operators exists in South Africa and Kenya, among other developing countries. As of 2016, South African regulators amended the National Land Transport Bill which requires Uber to operate as metered taxis as an attempt to level the playing field between Uber and metered taxis.

A lack of intermodal connectivity between different forms of passenger transport occurs alongside substantial differences in funding, government support and the capacity of different modes. For example, in South Africa minibus taxis as private operators are not subsidised. However, minibus operators directly compete with government subsidised buses and trains. The significant differences in support are highlighted in the fact that the Gautrain’s subsidy is R63 per passenger per trip while Metro train receives R4 per trip and bus services receive between R11 and R24 per trip. Notably, although minibus taxis are not subsidised they are considered the most readily available and affordable mode of transport and as such they have a national market share in passenger transport of 65%, while busses hold 25% and rail (Metro train and Gautrain) have 15%.

Passengers, especially short distance commuters, do not choose a transport mode based on fares only but also on accessibility, frequency and reliability. In South Africa, one of the most accessible and frequent transport modes is travel by minibus taxi. By comparison, the Gautrain and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems require commuters to link to the closest platform at either end of the journey.

As cities experience high population density due to urbanisation, transport capabilities are challenged by commuters’ increase in demand for mass transport systems. Challenges might emerge as rail stations, for example, are located within certain areas leaving particular areas unserved or lacking efficient intermodal transfers. A resolution in Australia was the introduction and integration of public transport intermodal systems where different public transport modes complemented one another. One concern raised in Sydney’s independent public transport inquiry was that of high-speed rail not being fully integrated with other public transport modes.

The South African public passenger transport market inquiry excludes issues around public transport integration and swift passenger transfers between modes. Integrating public transport modes might be efficient if commuters experience less difficulty when transferring between modes, and reach their destination quicker with affordable fares overall. Implementing an integrated ticketing system for public transport modes and constructing integrated transport modes’ stations could enhance ease of intermodal transfers, for example.

It is relevant whether there is overlap and complementarity between modes of transport. Given that the Commission is pursuing an inquiry and not an investigation, there may be some room to consider broader policy issues relating to public transport in South Africa. It is important to note that some issues are likely not to be resolved through the competition law proceedings, but require coordination with other policy makers and responsible agencies to effect meaningful change in public transport.