A few days ago I was walking with my family past the traffic circle in Fish Hoek, just before the Memorial Gardens when two battle weary taxis chugged, sputtered, coughed, and rattled their way past us- nose to tail. Both these collections of scrap metal and gaffer tape were chock full with punters heading away from Fish Hoek.
The taxis were closely followed by a very large Metro bus, belching out deisel fumes, roaring along making the ground shake, with the grand total of two passengers on board.
This was as stark illustration of what appears to be the norm for this area. The taxis are very popular and the buses are hardly used, even at peak times- in fact, I don’t think that I have ever seen a full service bus in the Fish Hoek valley, on any route.
Nothing would make me happier than to see the eradication of taxis from our road. They are a plague, but deemed essential by most of their users. To my mind it seems a better option to have one bus carry the occupants of many taxis, especially on routes such as the one between Fish Hoek train station and Masiphumelele. That the buses are empty and the taxis full points to issues with the bus service that stops people from using them. Without access to a full, in depth survey of passengers on both modes of transport it is impossible to say why one is more popular than the other. Maybe one should be undertaken and acted upon, however, it seems that in the mean time some kind of common sense needs to come to the for.
First, if the bus is empty, and still running a route, it must be getting subsidised in some way, as it is not taking near enouth in fares to pay for itself. It is also unlikely that other, popular routes are funding the empty buses, it is much more likely that the tax payer is paying for the bus to run.
An alternative to the taxi service is vital, if for no other reason than to at least make an attempt to curb their monopoly on transport. This removes the possibility of cancelling unpopular routes.
So, if the buses are to run come what may certain questions come to my mind.
First, do the buses need to be huge coaches capable of carry 50+ passengers. Would it not be more economical, cause less pollution and reduce noise to run smaller buses- alternative fuel sources would be perfect.
Second, the tax payer is paying for the bus to run, with no hope of recovering much more that a pitance in return, so why not make the buses free to travel on? This will undoubtedly tempt some passengers away from the taxis, and mean that the tax payer is getting something in return for their funding- less taxis on the road. There could still be a charge at peak travel times, or on heavy traffic routes, but why not reduce this too.
Thinking further, why not make the entire bus network free to travel on, entirely funded through rates and taxes? Before the average tax payer starts boiling in their boots at the prospect of funding someone else’s travel, just hear me out!
If you currently commute to work in a car you probably spend a huge proportion of your day getting hot under the collar trying to not crash your car into the one in front. Rush hour traffic is painful and must knock years off your life. On top of this, being stuck in traffic for hours costs you a fortune in fuel that is just being burnt to keep the air conditioning running as you listen to annoying radio programmes.
Now imagine that instead of doing this you get to go to work for free, on an express bus, with its own lane on the highway- and you don’t have to do the driving. Even if you have no option but to drive to work, imagine how much better it would be travelling with 30% less traffic on the road (and less taxis to boot). Your savings in fuel alone would pay for any increase in tax that would be required to pay for the bus service.
And then there is the prestige of having such a system. The appeal to visitors to be able to travel anywhere in the city for free, on modern, clean, safe public transport is difficult to quantify, but I imagine that it would have tourism leaders salivating.
It seems to make no sense to me to charge none existant passengers to travel on a bus, and then pay to run the bus anyway when so many benefits could be reaped from not charging at all.