Johannesburg hosts the 2015 Eco-Mobility World Festival

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

<p>Cyclists riding through the streets of Johannesburg as part of the EcoMobility Freedom Ride, one of the mass participation events of the EcoMobility World Festival 2015. (Source: Tshwane Malope - Ecomobility 2015)</p>

Cyclists riding through the streets of Johannesburg as part of the EcoMobility Freedom Ride, one of the mass participation events of the EcoMobility World Festival 2015. (Source: Tshwane Malope - Ecomobility 2015)

The 2015 Sandton Eco-mobility World Festival is in full swing and will take place throughout the month of October which has been dubbed as “eco-mobility” month in Sandton, Johannesburg. While a number of cities around the world have adopted and executed successful “car free day” awareness raising events, the City of Johannesburg has extended this to a full month event, as an outcome of  Executive Mayor Mpho Parks Tau’s engagement with ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability. During the festival, the city will be promoting the use of public transportation and other alternative eco-friendly modes of transport such as walking and cycling to and from, and when getting around the Sandton Central Business District (CBD).

This World Festival is the second to take place following the South Korean city of Suwon’s World Festival held in 2013, and is the first to take place in Africa. Through the festival, the City of Johannesburg aims to exhibit to its citizens and the world that an eco-mobile future is possible, and that different forms of public transportation, walking and cycling are feasible, accessible and safe in urban areas. At the same time the city aims to “raise awareness about the impact of unsustainable transport patterns, air pollution and climate change in cities, in turn inspiring a long-term behavioural change among citizens,” adds Lisa Seftel the City’s Eco-mobility spokesperson.

Hosting the Festival in Sandton

During a public press conference with Mayor Tau, and Gino Van Begin, General Secretary of ICLEI, the festival’s international implementing partner, Mayor Tau expressed the need for the City of Johannesburg to respond to its current congestion issues which will escalate if alternatives and changes are not explored and introduced. “Sandton is an example of an area which suffers from high levels of congestion which will over time hamper economic growth and escalate other environmental issues such as air quality and high carbon emissions”, explained Mayor Tau. “There is a need to look at ways to decongest Sandton and raise awareness about the need to switch away from private car use during peak hours, whilst promoting the use of public transport, walking and cycling,” explains Seftel.

“Sandton is estimated to have an influx of over 85,000 private high carbon emitting vehicles and approximately 120,000 residents, visitors, workers and business owners daily commuting to and from the CBD which contributes to congestion and the city’s high carbon footprint” Seftel further explains. Sandton is also an economic hub with prominent retail stores and other entertainment and leisure facilities, attracting large numbers all year around. Seftel added that “Its location and high activity therefore make it an ideal case study, and the lessons learnt from eco-mobility month will help to direct the way forward for future transport developments in South Africa.”

De-congesting Sandton through the use of alternative transportation

To promote eco-mobility, the City of Johannesburg has made a number of temporary changes in mobility and transport systems which will be in effect for the entire duration of the festival. Although most of these changes are temporary, most represent long term changes which are a part of the City’s long term development commitment. This shift has resulted in the development of infrastructure such as: the construction of bicycle lanes; opening up and extending pavements and pedestrian walk ways; closure or restriction of road access for personal vehicle users; and opening up extra lanes for public transportation. Along with the above mentioned changes, bus and taxi services will be in full operation from nearby places of shopping, townships and from park and ride listed spots. This is said to assist in promoting the use of public transport services which will include: Buses, mini-buses, metered taxis and tuk-tuks. Park and ride facilities will be located around Johannesburg where commuters can park their personal vehicles and take public transportation into the Sandton CBD. There are close to 7,000 parking bays situated in shopping centres and malls outside Sandton, and 2,000 more parking spaces available in malls within shorter distances from Sandton which can be used during this time. Public transport services are in operation from these sites to Sandton and overall costs will be approximately R20 per day with some free rides. Prices vary for the different public systems and are also dependent on traveling distance. Those who wish to make use of their private cars during this period will still be able to do so, however some of the streets will have restricted access and priority will be given to public transport.

Awareness and public perception

While lessons from the previous Ecomobility World Festival such as “maintaining high levels of public participation, consultation and building of partners” were considered during the planning stages which resulted in great support from multiple sponsors, more lessons are yet to be learnt as the festival progresses. These lessons will “benefit the city and inform whatever decisions to be taken going forward,” adds Seftel. One of the main challenges faced during the planning phase was getting the buy-in from the Sandton community and “dealing and managing negative perceptions and anxiety amongst stakeholders as to whether this plan could work,” explains Seftel. “We feel that there is a lot of curiosity but also a lot of support and positive energy around the festival. There are also some sceptics and those who are still upset that their usual transport patterns have been disrupted,” adds Seftel.

The changes and arranged transport systems are not expected to be a seamless process, “the changes and disruptions will bring about a discomfort, but it is a small price to pay”, adds Tau. The festival is in its third week and people are adapting to the changes and are making use of the many available public transport facilities. Reports of some public transport systems have recorded their highest average passenger numbers during the first week of the festival, “these adjustments have proven that there is a need for public transport in our cities and that Gauteng is indeed moving the city region forward”, commented Dr Ismail Vadi, Gauteng’s MEC for Roads and Transport. Vadi stated that “since the commencement of the City of Johannesburg’s EcoMobility Festival, the Gautrain has shown a substantial passenger increase of 7.7%, with average passengers count increasing from 55,800 to 60,120 based on average Monday passenger trips”.  He also mentioned that the “bus service increased by 512 passenger trips with an average of 21,076 passengers using the bus service on the first day.”

More information on public perceptions including comments and feedback from those visiting, working or living in Sandton can be accessed on the Ecomobility website and their twitter page @jhbecomobility.

Outcomes and envisaged future

While residents, regular visitors and people working in the Sandton CBD are familiarising themselves with the major changes in their daily transport and commuting systems, the City of Johannesburg hopes to, through the festival, decrease the use of high- carbon-emitting personal vehicles which enter and exit Sandton on a daily basis; decrease congestion and the carbon emissions of the area; and create a people friendly environment which has a number of benefits. “The city’s long term goal is to achieve a behavioural change towards public transport, walking and cycling in urban areas” added Seftel. Tau adds that “there are a number of plans aimed at developing infrastructure to support mobility within the area and increasing access into Sandton by expanding the highway network through various forms of transport including cycling and Bus Rapid Transport Systems.”

In addition to these long term plans, one of the key outcomes of the festival thus far has been the release of the Johannesburg Declaration on EcoMobility in Cities, in which the mayors declared the following: “We commit to and urge all spheres of government to give their full support to the implementation of transport-related targets on road safety, air quality, energy efficiency and urban transport under the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals”. The Declaration was an outcome of The Leaders’ Roundtable on Road to Paris: Transport and Climate Change, which was held on 8th October 2015 as a part of the EcoMobility Dialogues 2015, which was attended by mayors and experts from countries around the world. Mayor Tau will be presenting the Declaration at the United Nations Climate Change COP 21 conference in Paris in December 2015 where he will also be delivering a key-note global cities’ message on EcoMobility and climate-smart cities.

Staying up to date with developments

Information on more dialogues and exhibitions taking place during the festival, as well as the Transport Management Plan for the duration of the Festival can be accessed directly from the Eco-Mobility World Festival 2015 website. The Transport Management Plan includes a detailed map outlining the different changes which are in effect, such as cycling routes, dedicated public lanes, and various alternative transport options. In addition to this, people can stay up to date with all the developments, latest information regarding road closures, bus schedules, park and ride facilities, pedestrian and cycling routes as well as all events and exhibitions taking place during the festival using the VayaMoja application which is available for download from the Google Play and the iTunes stores.

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