Serving a city with a population of 3.8 million people may seem a daunting enough prospect, but when one considers the sheer volume of infrastructure work required in Cape Town, one quickly builds a picture of the challenge facing the city’s authorities.
The city has adopted a ‘5 Year Plan’ also known as an Integrated Development Plan (IDP), which is designed to identify and develop a raft of projects aimed at improving public transport systems, roads and water treatment.
Councillor Brett Herron has been a Member of the Mayoral Committee for Roads and Stormwater since the last municipal elections in May 2011. His role as a politician is to help prioritise each project and ensure work is fully planned and operates within budget and on-time:
“The configuration and transformation of the public transport system in Cape Town requires a significant amount of infrastructure improvement,” he acknowledges, “the road network is another core element and there has been an historical backlog of “apartheid roads” that have been in dire need of upgrading within some of the most disadvantaged areas of the city.”
Cape Town’s residents certainly have substantial transportation needs because of the dispersed spatial structure of the city. The Metropolitan Area has a well developed road network, however, the road infrastructure is deteriorating and becoming congested while public transport remains relatively uncoordinated at present, something Cllr Herron intends to change.
“We are putting in place a Transport Authority to assume responsibility for all forms of public transport within Cape Town, this will be the first of its kind in South Africa. The new body will be responsible for planning and contracting all public transport in the city and will include a greater role in the running of the commuter rail service and buses,” he continues.
According to Cllr Herron the plan is to launch the new Authority in October and the next few months will see the legislation and structure put into place to achieve this; “We want to have in place our plans for scheduled bus services by the middle of next year, at present these services fall under the remit of provincial government. Our role in the running of commuter rail should be resolved by 2014.
“When all of this is in place the new Transport Authority will consolidate revenues as all of these will be collected by a centralised transport fund with one authority. Fare revenue and other funding is currently fragmented so we are looking to pool all grants, funds and fares together,” Cllr Herron adds.
The move to improve transport services is just one area Cllr Herron’s ruling party is currently working on. On 1st July his department received its largest ever capital budget to be spent on capital infrastructure.
“We are very mindful of improving public transport and roadways in some of the apartheid legacy areas,” he explains. “We are trying to undo social and economic exclusion and the work we are undertaking will make some of the more disadvantaged areas much more commutable. We have a total capital budget of R2.6 billion for the new fiscal year.”
Cllr Herron says that the decision-making process for prioritising such projects formed a part of the electoral mandate and of course each task has to fit into the city’s integrated development plan.
“We identified the priority routes and the roads requiring upgrades within Cape Town and we have to ensure that the economic roads – those that drive the city’s commerce, are maintained. That is a key priority to keep the city’s businesses running; we then look at upgrading sub-standard roads in other areas.
“All planning has to be done well in advance and rollout and milestones are agreed before any project is added to the budget. For the coming year we have several hundred projects planned and we work very closely with the public to try to mitigate the impact each job could have on communities as a result of road closures, noise and environmental issues.
“Our procurement process is very meticulous and every project goes through a competitive process and the scoring system not only considers financial costs but also looks at the composition of each bidding company to ensure that we meet out Black Economic Empowerment targets.”
Among the major projects already underway is the creation of a new bus rapid transit system which will operate under the “MyCiTi” brand and which has already seen the construction of dedicated lanes in the west coast area of Cape Town. The project has some way yet to go and Cllr Herron says there is another R2.3 billion available for the new financial year.
One of the aspects of this project that most resonates with Cllr Herron is the opportunity to revitalise what he feels are inadequate public transport services in some of the apartheid areas. The same areas have tended to also lack decent roadways and the department is now looking to address this problem as well:
“I’m very excited to be a part of our efforts to upgrade historically poor roads and over the next 3-4 years we will be spending up to R500 million on improving not just the roads but also the sidewalks, street furniture, lighting and signage in these disadvantaged areas,” he enthuses.
Further investment will be made on better management of storm water and it should be remembered that Cape Town is a coastal city, susceptible to the risk of flooding from high tide. Cllr Herron says that the department has acknowledged the threat and there are currently several large projects underway in the Helderberg area.
Operationally Cllr Herron feels that Cape Town’s topography does not cause too many problems although digging has unearthed underground services that we not previously known about. “We also have to encounter challenges around informal settlements and there are approximately 220 of these around the city,” he adds.
“However one of the biggest problems that affects supply chain is the unreliability of bitumen supply, we struggle particularly when the refineries are down and I have written to the Minister of Transport to explain our dilemma,” asserts Cllr Herron.
Supply chain relationships in the past have been open to suspicion amid claims of favouritism and corruption but in the new South Africa Cllr Herron believes that the partnership between public and private sector has improved greatly;
“Such relationships are now imperative to achieve what we want in the city” he says. “The entire supply chain process is transparent and the suspicion of bias is removed from the process. Trust has improved and the supply chain policy is continually looked at.”
The department employs in excess of 2,000 workers who are currently going through an employee development programmes that forms part of a major business improvement project launched in July.
“There are many facets of training involved and we are moving from reactive maintenance to proactive maintenance and educating our staff on how to accomplish this,” Cllr Herron describes.
“We are also focussing on engineering training, to improve our abilities to design and implement future projects and we want to develop more fully qualified professional engineers on our workforce. We will continue to run our existing apprenticeship programme but the whole business improvement project is aimed at putting in place a new focus that will allow employees the scope for upward mobility.”
“The project team will drive this whole process through and everything will pull together in the next six months. Change management in our department will be seen over the next few years,” he adds.
It is a bright future that opens up great possibilities for Cape Town’s residents. Of course significant investment in infrastructure was made for the 2010 FIFA World Cup (TM) and Cllr Herron feels the city has learnt from this experience:
“We confounded the naysayers and we were able to pull-off all the infrastructure upgrades necessary to deliver a superb event. We learned the importance of developing a well functioning, safe, efficient public transport network that could operate beyond normal hours across the city.
“Our existing systems focus very much around commuters but the increased tourism since the World Cup (Cape Town has seen a 15 per cent growth in numbers) has helped us to identify this sector as a major economic driver. We’ve therefore linked tourism and events together and hope that the improvements we are making will benefit the city in the long-term.”