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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Input to Red October Campaign on Transport by the General Secretary

18 October 2006

Dear comrades and friends,

COSATU welcomes the launch of the Red October Campaign on public transport, and joins it wholeheartedly. We appreciate this latest in the series of campaigns around the people's needs.

It is particularly appropriate that this year's campaign centres on transport for our people. In the next five years, government plans massive increases in investment in public transport, including providing services for the 2010 World Cup. This gives us a real opportunity to shape our future collectively, by making sure that the massive planned spending on transport benefits all our people, not just an elite few.

Comrades and friends,

Transport is critical for working people and the poor in this country because apartheid made our people live so far from work.

In the cities, our townships and informal settlements were kept on the far margins. Moreover, since the late 1980s we have seen sharp cutbacks in city bus systems and commuter rail. As a result, our people now rely heavily on expensive, unsafe and unreliable taxis, which are almost unregulated and are only now beginning to get a subsidy through the taxi recapitalisation process.

This situation has been devastating for the quality of live of working people. Many workers and students must commute hours each day to work and back. The results are high costs for working people and their families as well as unsafe and exhausting conditions. Moreover, if workers can't get to work reliably on time, they face problems with their employers.

In addition, apartheid many of our people live in remote rural areas. A third of our people still live in the former homeland areas. They face a real transport crisis, with completely inadequate access to towns, jobs and social services, including healthcare and policing.

The situation has been aggravated by the decision to shut down rural rail lines and by the deterioration in many rural roads. This has undermined farm and rural processing industries, aggravating the already high joblessness of the rural areas.

Finally, we are here to express our solidarity with transport workers. Taxi drivers in particular face extraordinary exploitation. Many work tremendously long hours and have to drive under risky conditions in order to satisfy their bosses. Meanwhile bus workers face the continual threat of losing their job because of outsourcing.

How is government policy addressing the crisis n public transport?

Until recently, government seemed largely to avoid the question. Local governments neglected and often privatised bus systems. Commuter trains were allowed to deteriorate, with inadequate investment and security systems.

In effect, this neglect of state-owned public transport meant taxis have played an increasing role. But government has largely avoided ensuring they provided an affordable, reliable and safe service for our people. The taxi recapitalisation programme goes only part way to addressing this problem.

In addition, government continues to build housing for poor and working people far from economic centres, making our people commute huge distances to work. Until very recently, densification came very low in the priorities of most provinces and of the national housing department. The result has been rising costs for ordinary people and for society as a whole.

Some of these policy failures are now, slowly, being addressed, under pressure from our people. Government has begun to support taxis through the recap programme. It is investing more in commuter rail. And the housing department has increased its support for densification. Still, in all of these areas we need much more coherent, decisive and better-funded programmes.

A major concern remains Gautrain. This project will only serve the rich, because it will be far too expensive for the majority of our people. It does nothing for those who really suffer from transport problems - above all, commuters from places like Soweto and Diepsloot. Instead, it takes away resources that could be used to improve the lives of millions of commuters.

In the coming years, we expect a massive increase in investment in transport linked in part to the 2010 World Cup. We must use this Red October Campaign to ensure that we won't see a fiasco like Gautrain again. The new investments must benefit the majority of our people, in both the cities and rural areas, not just a small elite.

We cannot, as a country, spend billions on transport for the rich, while ordinary people continue to suffer for hours each day on overcrowded and risky taxis, buses and trains. We cannot design luxury systems for those who can afford them, while our people wait in queues at the taxi ranks and train stations.

The investments for 2010 will leave a real legacy for our people only if they lead to improved commuter transport for working people and learners in towns, and better access for rural people.

Comrades and friends,

We are gathered together to back up our demands for a real public transport system.

That means, first, we want to see a qualitative expansion in municipal bus systems. We cannot let the taxi owners hold us to ransom on this question. Taxis are important, but the backbone of the public transport system must be in the state sector.

Similarly, we want a substantial increase in investment in commuter rail. That investment must ensure more reliable and comfortable trains, and fund security for commuters.

For the taxis, we demand improved subsidies, including through the taxi recapitalisation programme. At the same time, the state must improve its regulation and support for the taxi industry. We need to see cleaner and safer taxi ranks; better allocation of routes between owners; and improved wages, training and safety for drivers.

In the long run, the transport crisis for our people can only be solved through a concerted effort to build more working-class housing near the cities. We need to see a vast expansion in the effort to renovate high rises in city centres. We need more medium and high-density settlements. And we need improved provision of government services and retail sites in black townships that are distant from the cities.

We realise that denser housing is more expensive to provide in the short run. But in the long run it is the only way to ensure that workers do not face excessive commutes, eating up their time and their money, and raising costs for the economy as a whole.

The improvement in public transport should also be used to boost local production and job creation. We need to see strict guidelines on local procurement for buses, taxis and rail. Today, imported buses and trains have begun to displace local production, something we cannot afford when faced with over 30% unemployment.

In short, we must ensure that investment for 2010 and beyond meets the needs of all our people. The legacy of our huge investments in the soccer world cup must be a more comfortable, safer and affordable public transport system for working people and the poor.