Stimela 2010by Carlos Amato / 01.02.2010
The Gautrain is like a gigantic steel email. I took a trip on one this week. It glided, whispering, out of its designer station adjoining OR Tambo Airport’s Terminal A, sailed regally over a clogged freeway and made a beautiful beeline for Sandton at 160km/h. Inside, we passengers felt like advanced organisms, smug and snug in our Canadian phallus of clean modernity. We had to penetrate the city in order to save it.
Will the Gautrain save Jo’burg? You’d hope so, at the price. The realisation of Gauteng’s rapid rail network is costing the state a cool R3-million every hour. The final bill will klap our collective pockets to the tune of R25-billion. Given our calamitous health, housing and educational backlogs, it’s not hard to get freaked by all those zeroes, especially since the project will not be a panacea for Gauteng’s escalating transport nightmare.
Because most of the network’s customers will not be the taxi-enslaved working-class Gautengers who urgently need a cheap, safe and comfortable passage to work every day. The service doesn’t come close to any townships except Alexandra.
Hence the SACP and other pro-poor voices have long derided the Gautrain as a grotesque, neoliberal vanity project. Its technocratic champions, they say, are cravenly grasping at the cosmetic trappings of “world-classness” without actually possessing (or distributing) the wealth those trappings are meant to illustrate.
First conceived by then Gauteng premier Tokyo Sexwale, the project became the “Shilowa Express” under Mbhazima’s stewardship. Since then, Shilowa’s political career has moved into a siding.
No matter who is Gauteng premier, the Gautrain will always bear the ideological signature of Thabo Mbeki, who was so tediously hung up on devising ostentatious symbols of African prestige, instead of knuckling down to the dirty, boring work of grassroots delivery.
But the Gautrain isn’t actually a waste of money. It offers ostentation and delivery in equal measure. Because against the background of peak oil, mass urbanisation and climate change, the transport system is critically ill, and the Gautrain is part of the cure.
The Gautrain is an arterial scaffold, around and between which the Bus Rapid Transport network, the revived Metrorail network and a reformed taxi industry must form the capillaries. The Gautrain will also run its own bus service – 36 routes connecting to its stations from suburban areas.
If you commute daily between Jo’burg and Pretoria on the Gautrain, you’ll pay about R1000 a month for your ticket. A trip between Park Station and Pretoria will take 38 minutes. Between OR Tambo and Sandton? Less than fifteen minutes. Plus you can read, work, chat, think, breathe. It’s called modern civilisation.
Those are the pull factors. The push factors will be new highway tolls, peak-oil petrol prices and ever-thickening traffic.
In due course, the Gautrain stations will become the seeds of a new, densified, intelligent, pedestrianised Johannesburg. High-rise apartment blocks will sprout around Rosebank, Marlboro and Midrand. The streets will be reclaimed from the shadows and the killers (both phantom and real). Bicycles and feet will become legitimate transport devices. Clubs and bars and theatres and cafes will cluster like crystals around the stations, and the reigning cultures of drunk driving and mall-cruising will die a natural death.
In short, Johannesburg will get a life.