Make transport your election issue

Rob Handfield-Jones May 18, 2011

vote for change

Photo credit: Gary Mcinnes

With today being election day, you may be giving thought to going to the polls later to exercise that gravely important democratic right – selecting a local government candidate into whose hands you will entrust the spending of your tax money and the making of decisions which affect your life. Perhaps you have already decided who to vote for, but then again, perhaps you haven’t, or maybe you are susceptible to a re-think.

Transport is generally the second-biggest expense in most households, running second only to the roof over one’s head, and edging out groceries and housewares. With such a huge whack of one’s disposable income going on transport, it is a very important to vote for a political party that treats the issue with respect. Since your choices boil down to ‘ANC’ or ‘other’, and since the ANC has been in government since 1994, allow me to run through the ANC’s track record in the arena of transport over that time.

Starting in 1994, they systematically emasculated the railways. Rail transport has floundered, recently reaching an all-time low when the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) shut down the Shosholoza Meyl passenger train between Johannesburg and Cape Town. This was allegedly due to profitability issues, but it was widely reported (and never denied by the Department of Transport) that the rolling stock was actually unsafe for mainline use.

The ANC’s indifference to rail transport caused a massive swing towards trucking and it is no coincidence that the road fatality rate went into a zoom climb starting in 1998 as the number of trucks on the road exceeded the traffic police’s resources and competence. The paucity of weighbridges and preference to enforce speed instead of moving violations were directly responsible for the complete destruction of the N3 to Durban by overloaded trucks, resulting in it being rebuilt and tolled so heavily that it’s now cheaper to fly to Durban than drive! Then the DoT built Durban’s new airport in the middle of nowhere, tolled the road access to it and admitted, just three days after the airport opened, that the siting of the airport had been a mistake. R7 Billion later. Oh well, it’s only tax money.

Private

One of the most catastrophic decisions of the ANC in terms of its effect on your and my pockets was to take numerous functions which were previously part of the Department of Transport and transfer them into private companies created by Acts of Parliament. Examples are SANRAL, the Road Traffic Management Corporation, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Airports Company of South Africa, Air Traffic and Navigation Services, and several others, all with government as the sole shareholder. The purpose of this was simple: the cost of running them was transferred to the private sector and is covered by charging citizens for services which were previously covered by tax revenue. The problem is that taxation levels have not been reduced commensurately with the reduction in costs to the Department of Transport.

We therefore end up paying for these services twice and because these entities are “private companies” they can charge VAT as well, another handy windfall. Roads for example, used to be funded by taxation. Now they are funded by tolls, but we still pay the taxation. All of these “public entities” as the DoT euphemistically calls them, are nothing more than stealth tax generators with the sole aim of externalising the responsibilities of government. This would worry me less if I hadn’t read recently that corruption might currently be costing South Africa 20% of its GDP. If our tax money wasn’t being stolen, we wouldn’t need to pay more, and since the ANC has been the sole party in government since 1994, the buck stops at Luthili House.

The ANC’s comic-opera inability to exercise control over Road Accident Fund is a matter of public record. The deficit currently stands in excess of R40Bn, not least because the ANC has completely lost control of road safety as well – hospital beds and rehabilitation centres are filling up with crash victims at a rate last seen when PW Botha was president. These are all predictable consequences of undermining licensing oversight, appointing officials with little regard for competence, focusing road enforcement almost solely on revenue generation, and removing basics like a proper instructor’s test for learner driver instructors.

Then there is the Metro Police, another ANC experiment which has become a virtual byword for corruption, bribery, atrocious driving and revenue collection ahead of all other priorities. Not to mention the blatant and unashamed disregard for the law as it suits them, most recently typified by the issuing of thousands of fines against the stipulations of Section 30 of the AARTO Act.

Mistake

The implementation of E-Natis in 2007 brought the licensing system to a halt and caused a seven percent reduction in new vehicle sales in the month it was introduced, representing hundreds of millions in lost GDP. The DoT was warned that implementing it all in one go would be a mistake, but they still did it, and the effect on the economy was massive.

I’d have to write several more pages to detail all the ways in which the ANC has reduced transport to a disjointed catastrophe over the past 17 years. I haven’t even mentioned AARTO yet, nor all the other legislative bungles, nor SAA, nor the proposal to use motorists as cash cows to fund bankrupt municipalities in KZN via a fuel levy, nor the outrageous harbour costs which have driven shipping business to Mozambique, nor the ‘high-cube’ container fiasco which almost shut road transport down last year, nor the fact that almost 60% of drivers killed in traffic crashes are drunk. Most importantly, I haven’t raised the question of why a succession of ANC transport ministers has sat by in paralysis while this shambles rumbled over the horizon at vast cost to citizens.

Of course, I could be flippant and say that all of the aforegoing presents a wonderful business opportunity in my line of work, and the more people die and the higher motoring costs go, the better business case exists for the company I run. This is undeniable, but irrelevant, because my line of business does not exempt me personally from transport risks, nor from transport costs. I have no faith that the ANC has taken transport remotely seriously enough at any level of government to deserve my vote and I will accordingly withhold it from them later today. If your voting mind is not made up, why not choose transport as your election issue? Join me in making your cross under ‘other’ and telling the ANC that we, the users of transport and the consumers of transported products, deserve a lot better, a lot cheaper than they have provided.

About Rob Handfield-Jones, the author

Rob's motto is "...cars, cars, cars..." and he's been a leading innovator in the field of driving skills training since 1989. Away from the serious stuff, Rob enjoys working on cars, writing about them and playing with them - he has numerous TV stunt-driving credits, many wins and lap records in circuit racing, and has also tried his hand at special stage rallying. He writes regularly on road safety issues for several publications and is a well-known radio commentator via his "On the road" road safety slot on Classic FM 102.7.