More scientifically rooted regulation will help build a resilient South African transportation system, which can navigate events like climate disasters, major accidents and the recent torching of trucks on major highways.
This was the message from South African Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga, in her keynote speech at the opening plenary session of the 41st Southern African Transport Conference (SATC).
As Minister of Transport, Chikunga is the patron of the conference, being held at the CSIR International Conference Centre in Tshwane, under the theme “Rethinking transportation: Planning and building resilient systems to meet global externalities”.
Referencing the conference theme, Chikunga said that for transport systems to be more resilient, the price of transportation must reflect all of its social costs.
Inadequate economic regulation of transport led to knock-on effects and system imbalances such as traffic congestion, higher fuel consumption, carbon emissions and infrastructure damage, the minister explained. It could also lead to criminal acts such as the recent torching of trucks in KwaZulu-Natal,.
Chikunga said the Economic Regulation of Transport Bill currently before parliament was designed to address the problem of “externalities” that were not currently regulated in a coherent, centralised manner.
The single transport economic regulator (STER) envisaged in the Bill would help ensure an efficient, cost-effective South African transport system, which could meet the country’s economic and social goals.
Chikunga said economic regulation in transport was currently fragmented and inconsistent, and the new regulatory framework aimed to improve this situation.
Chikunga said countries across the world faced similar challenges, such as climate change, globalisation, new technology, and workforce resource issues. They needed to build resilience to manage these challenges.
Using the example of an overloaded truck, Chikunga explained how the costs of flouting overloading regulations were not borne by the transport operator, but by broader society.
“The overloaded truck damages the road surface, and risks people’s lives,” she said. “If there is an accident, traffic congestion results, which has economic impacts, forcing hundreds of vehicles to absorb slower arrival times, to consume more fuel, and to generate greater carbon emissions.”
Chikunga said that although these incidents happened on roads that were important economic arteries, their costs were not covered in transportation prices, nor were these externalities captured when calculating GDP.
Chikunga said it was also necessary to update regulation to consider the massive environmental externalities of South Africa’s transport sector. She said the country has around 13 million vehicles on the road, and that road transport generated 95.7% of all transport emissions of greenhouse gases.
“We must therefore have uniform methodologies in measuring emissions and carrying out environmental impact assessments of transport infrastructure development.
Chikunga said as part of this, the Department was committed to ensuring adequate environmental audit infrastructure, and to supporting a substantial shift from road to rail transport. She said a single transport economic regulator would help to regulate these processes.
The minister appealed to all SATC delegates to embrace the conference theme of rethinking transport.
“We wish to work with you, and whatever decisions that we take, will be based on informed, researched information, which must inform externality-specific policies”.