Congestion – how to fix it!


I’m being asked more and more lately about congestion: why don’t we just build more roads and erase these congestion problems? We’re addicted to our cars – the more the patient relies on the ‘quick fix’, the more the patient needs it. There is good evidence around the world that building more road infrastructure encourages more car use. So short term gain, but longer-term pain. Congestion is all about bottlenecks in the network and it is true that our peaks now last longer than one hour. Eliminating certain bottlenecks to increase capacity would only shorten peaks a little, not eliminate congestion, or provide sustainable solutions because latent private vehicle demand would quickly return conditions to where they were before the new road was built.

But should we concerned with moving cars, or people?

Putting aside the debate on quality mass transit (rail and bus operations) for a moment, the single-person-car commute is a luxury we can no longer afford. Why spend any more on infrastructure than is absolutely necessary (repairs, maintenance)? Congestion charging, toll fees, higher fuel levies etc. are simply taxes that are passed onto the consumer in one way or another. Taxes often breed contempt through an unwillingness-to-pay principle but do they change behavior?

The success of the private car stems from offering a flexibility of travel: a freedom to choose our time and space and thus control our day. Yes, its great to listen to the radio, be warm, dry and cosy and yes, catch up on those calls with our hands-free. But is this preferred choice actually diminishing our flexibility because we no longer can enjoy reliable travel times – would a consistent 60 minute trip every day not be better than a 45 minute trip one day and an hour and 45 minutes the next?

Would ‘appropriate’ congestion encourage more public transport use – it may indeed, if there was a safe and reliable public transport alternative. Then what of the promise of variable working hours, future technologies, autonomous vehicles etc. We all need a little more encouragement to believe….. that nagging question remains – do we build more infrastructure or manage what we have better? What can be done NOW, to improve congested conditions: improve mobility, accessibility, support the economy and encourage sustainable growth?

I believe the answer is out there, although making a difference will require real commitment from all of us. Much is made of the ‘inappropriate’ minibus taxi vehicle serving long-distance routes uneconomically (in relation to bus and rail). What if a similar form of transport were used to replace the private vehicle (single person) commute? Replace 12 private vehicles with one MaaS (Mobility as a Service) vehicle carrying 12 passengers? OK, maybe unrealistic! Let’s start with just 6 passengers in each MaaS! Then we remove 5 vehicles from the commute trip. If we can achieve this reduction, it could be like commuting in school holidays. Does this sound attractive?

I said in my first post, Mobility as a Service is coming to a City near you. There are Apps out there that will match your origin with your destination, pair your travel times to your business meetings and become flexible to get you home if a crisis strikes, or the dentist appointment looms. It is do-able. All we have to do is change our behaviour! It starts with us –  Let’s not be sheep.


So should we build, or not? The evidence against is mounting. As planners, we need to be questioning why the only options being considered are in fact those designed to make congestion worse.

Road Infrastructure: to build, or not to build….. is that the question?


Congestion in Cape Town


I’m looking out of our offices in Woodstock, watching traffic queues build up on Nelson Mandela, Sir Lowry Road, Albert Road ….. just business as usual, right? But its only Two O’Clock in the afternoon!

Oh yes, but it is business as usual. So congestion is public enemy No.1.

But whose enemy is it really? The congestion that is hitting the headlines is middle class, private vehicle delays, frustration and lengthening journey times. Yes, its adding to the cost of doing business, hurting tourism and the economy too. But at the time of writing, the national bus strike is hitting hard; the railways are limping along (barely) on 65 year old rolling stock and the minibus taxis are, well, thriving. The frustration felt in the car is nothing compared with standing in queues for two and half hours, travelling for 90 minutes to get to work late, only to have to repeat the treatment for the journey home. Public transport services have slipped to unacceptable levels, is desperately inadequate and in need of an urgent overhaul. This we know.

The City is in Transport Crisis – in the same way that we face a Water Crisis.

So what’s to be done? We cannot build our way out of congestion – populist calls for more infrastructure will not help the transport crisis.

In much the same way that the general public have risen to the challenge and changed its individual thinking around water usage, it is crystal clear that the public will have to solve the transport crisis itself too. Private intervention to beef up security to promote a safe and dignified ride to work; better public facilities, more frequent and appropriate services and above all, efficient use of subsidies. Yes, minibus taxis have a role to play.

But every crisis opens up opportunities: these are Mobility as a Service, ride-sharing, flexible working hours, less vehicle ownership, better ride-hailing services – the list goes on. But in short, let’s Privatise Public Transport!!  Mobility as a Service

The commuting public could halve the number of vehicles on the road tomorrow, if only we had the collective will. Every commuting day would be like a school holiday – imagine the relief! Let’s just take stock of how quickly Uber has changed many opinions and travel options – it is true that they have not taken away trips from the metered taxi industry but created many more shared journeys and job opportunities.

So over the coming months, look out for new entrepreneurial solutions and take them very seriously indeed. Mobility as a Service is coming to a City near you. It will disrupt transport as we know it and it will be better, for all of us.