Thousands of people queue every day for taxis. With Gautengs population having grown by 33.7 percent between 1996 and 2011, there is enormous pressure on the infrastructure, says the writer.

To ensure economic growth in Gauteng, we have to continue investing in transport infrastructure, says Neren Rau.

Johannesburg - More than half the population of Gauteng live beyond walking distance of a train station. Forty-four percent live beyond walking distance of a bus station and six percent live beyond walking distance of taxi points. Only 9.5 percent of people in Gauteng use a train for their daily commute to work.

Millions of people encounter struggle and expense in getting to and from work every day. Some have to travel for up to three hours to reach their workplace. State-subsidised buses and trains are limited, forcing most people to use more expensive forms of transport.

According to the World Bank, social and economic development is closely linked to infrastructure development. The Development Bank of SA’s infrastructure barometer also shows that infrastructure development is a major driver to reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Despite the increased government subsidies provided for the rail and bus public transport systems, transport costs remain a high percentage of household expenditure, especially among the poor.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development research shows Gauteng is one of the least affordable places to live in Africa – compared to places such as Lagos, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi – as residents here spend 21 percent of their income on transport.

Increasing urbanisation and population puts even further pressure on transport infrastructure.

Gauteng is the economic heartland of South Africa, generating more than 34 percent of the country’s GDP. The province accounts for 48 percent of all employee income and half of company revenues.

This despite it being the smallest province, taking up only 1.4 percent of the country’s land area.

Gauteng is also the shopping hub of Africa, with 60 percent of tourists from the rest of the continent citing shopping as their reason for visiting the province.

Besides being the economic centre, Gauteng is also the country’s geographic heart. All roads and railways lead to the province and it hosts the country’s main international airport – Africa’s busiest airport for passengers and cargo.

Gauteng boasts two inland ports, City Deep and Kazerne – the hub of an export-growth zone serving rail, road and airfreight customers throughout southern Africa. However, these ports are under threat from proposed amendments to customs legislation.

Gauteng has almost 47 percent of South Africa’s vehicle population and almost 90 percent of freight cargo is moved by road within the province and into the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

This means Gauteng’s transport infrastructure is also critical for the rest of the SADC economy. South Africa is the largest African trading partner for most of the countries in the SADC.

The Durban harbour is the deepest port in Africa and handles 66 percent of the region’s dry and bulk cargo and 80 percent of the region’s container capacity.

Gauteng faces enormous infrastructural challenges relating to its booming population and economic growth. A 1996 census counted 7.6 million people in Gauteng. By 2001, the population had increased to 9.2 million. In 2011, the population stood at 12.3 million – 22.4 percent of the country’s total population – a whopping increase of 33.7 percent from 1996 to 2011.

Economic growth in the province is expected to be 4.5 percent a year on average.

This growth puts pressure on the already straining infrastructural capabilities of Gauteng. The roads are unable to accommodate the increasing load, resulting in excessive peak-hour traffic.

The time wasted on the congested roads results in limited family and leisure time and a reduction in productive hours for businesses.

The inland ports are experiencing backlogs and delays in moving freight cargo, requiring massive investments to upgrade the infrastructure, technology and systems for increased efficiency.

The World Bank shows how a well- developed transport infrastructure network boosts the economy, by giving people access to income-generating activities.

This stimulates trade opportunities for the rural entrepreneur wanting to transport goods to the nearest town, as well as for big business involved in international trade.

Improving the transport network lowers the cost of production and logistics in delivering goods to the market. The country becomes more globally competitive, leading to faster economic growth and job creation.

South Africa and other SADC countries are uncompetitive compared to developed countries with strong transport infrastructure. Goods in South Africa take about 35 days to import and 30 days to export compared to three and six days in developed countries. The higher number of days it takes to import and export results in a higher cost of trade. Time is money.

Our province is growing daily. It is projected that the population will grow to 19 million by 2025.

In developing countries, rapid income and population growth translates into the rapid growth of car ownership. Forty-two percent of private vehicles are located in Gauteng. If these numbers continue to increase, the Gauteng of the future will be a horribly polluted and hopelessly congested place with increasing inefficiencies for the business sector and trade competitiveness.

To ensure economic growth in Gauteng and the global competitiveness of the country, we have to continue investing in transport infrastructure and environmentally friendly technologies.

If Gauteng residents have access to safe, reliable and cost-effective public transport alternatives, they will use them. Giving people these options will ensure the behavioural change that will save the environment and make our Gauteng of the future a great place to live and work.

* Neren Rau is the chief executive of the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Star