A MyCiTi depot in Green Point. It would be wrong of the city to ignore the benefits that can be realised through electric public transport. David Ritchie African News Agency (ANA)
During Transport Month, the president and national minister called on South Africans to increase their use of public transport. For Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha residents, who’ve had to go without the MyCiTi bus service for four and a half months, it’s a cruel call.

Five years of reliable service to the outlying townships came to a shuddering halt on June 1.

The cost implications for commuters are vast. It is reported a Khayelitsha commuter spends R4000 a month, instead of the R800 it used to cost him, to get to work in Sea Point. Another, who works in the CBD, said her transport budget was finished mid-month.

Their stories are consistent with those I heard from commuters standing in long lines for taxis at 5am, when I went to Khayelitsha to check.

No amount of political spin or lying by the City of Cape Town can plausibly explain its inability to prioritise the timeous securing of a new operating contract. Affordable public transport is critical to overcoming the legacy of apartheid planning and urban sprawl. This has huge implications for the cost and efficiency of running cities, and for climate change.

Cape Town’s drought, and new heatwave records globally, are testament to the accelerating and unpredictable global climate patterns. Cities’ transport sectors are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and, in Cape Town, the emissions are growing. A solution is to work towards more compact, efficient city development, and another is through lowering transport emissions. This can be achieved through better public transport and lower emission vehicles.

Amid the DA’s conservative fightback against inclusive growth last year, I was accused of manipulating a tender to pilot electric bus technology in Cape Town. The allegations were baseless. Although I have since left the City, the importance of electric vehicles to safeguard our common future remains.

A 2018 international study estimates that by 2025 nearly half of all buses in the world will be electric.

It was reported that electric buses offer lower operational and maintenance costs than diesel vehicles, are easier to maintain and require less replacement of parts - and provide a lower total cost of ownership through their vehicle life cycles. 

Every five weeks, Chinese cities add 9 500 electric buses to their networks. The battery-operated vehicles displace almost 5 000 barrels of diesel daily from the market. The reduced diesel demand is affecting global oil markets. Last year, the volume of fuel displaced by electric buses was about as much oil as that consumed by Greece.  

South Africa has a chance to catch up and lead Africa, but the move to new clean technology is not unanimously welcomed. The rapid switch to renewable energy does not bode well for industries with established links to oil. For example, Bowman’s, the legal firm that investigated my alleged electric bus tender “corruption”, honed in on one online, unsubstantiated article from the US, suggesting there were problems with Chinese electric buses.

These are the buses the EU’s review of global electric bus manufactures regarded as, “fully proven and safe and delivering outstanding range”. 

Cape Town’s electric buses remain unused and commuters in Khayelitsha are without affordable transport. It is irresponsible to ignore new technologies that offer lower operational costs - ultimately, lower ticket prices - for Cape Town and its residents.

For a city that suffered badly due to climate-change induced drought, it would be immoral not to consider the benefits for future generations that can be realised through electric public transport vehicles.

* Brett Herron is a member of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament and secretary-general of the GOOD Movement.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media.