Transportation in Developing Countries: Greenhouse Gas Scenarios for South Africa

South Africa has relatively high aggregate and per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to other developing countries, and to world averages. Transportation sector emissions are increasing, but climate change competes with urgent economic, social, and public health concerns for government attention. As a party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and an active participant in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, South Africa may be able to address transportation emissions through projects under the Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism.

The two major forces affecting South Africa’s transportation sector are the country’s legacy of apartheid and privatization. Apartheid-era policies cause high greenhouse gas emissions in two ways: (1) Blacks lived in separate townships and homelands, forcing them to travel long distances to jobs in commercial or white residential areas; and (2) anti-apartheid sanctions resulted in South Africa using high-carbon synthetic fuels based on domestic coal and boosting the local vehicle manufacturing industry. Privatization in the 1980s resulted in freight transportation shifting from rail to more energy-intensive trucks. Intense competition within the trucking industry has resulted in poor maintenance and extended use of inefficient vehicles by small entrepreneurial companies. This problem is more widespread in the minibus ‘jitney’ sector, which evolved to serve the unmet travel needs of black South Africans.

This report creates two scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. In the high business as usual scenario, residual land use policies continue to aggravate transportation problems. Personal car use accelerates as car prices drop and consumer credit becomes more widely available. In the low GHG scenario, mobility, accessibility, and safety concerns drive the government to play an active role in land use and transportation policies. More efficient use of urban land and energy resources improves the quality of life and reduces GHG emissions. Low-emissions scenario strategies are not necessarily costly but require strong political commitment.
Some key results are:

  • GHG emissions increase 82 percent in the high scenario; but decrease 12 percent in the low scenario.
  • Coordinating land use, housing, and passenger transportation policies would promote more efficient urban land use patterns that reduce travel distances and correct spatial imbalances.
  • Both (1) restructuring commuter services so that rail serves the densest population centers, buses serve secondary routes, and minibus jitneys provide feeder or local services; and (2) dedicated taxes on vehicle purchases and use, would improve and help sustain public transportation.
  • Changing technology, such as cleaner feedstock for synthetic fuel, would reduce GHG emissions.
  • Providing incentives to domestic auto manufacturers to produce buses and minibuses instead of cars would reduce the car orientation of the transportation system.

Transportation in Developing Countries: Greenhouse Gas Scenarios for South Africa is the third report in a five-part series examining transportation sector GHG emissions in developing countries. The findings are based on a Lifecycle Energy Use and Emissions Model developed by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis, which estimates GHG emissions from the transportation sector. The Pew Center gratefully acknowledges Ogunlade Davidson of the University of Cape Town, Ralph Gakenheimer of MIT, Talia McCray of the Université de Laval, and Michael Walsh, an independent transportation consultant, for their review of earlier drafts.

Executive Summary

The performance and structure of South Africas transportation system is largely explained by two phenomena: the legacy of apartheid and privatization. Apartheid had far-reaching impacts, even extending deep into the country’s transportation and energy system. Largely as a result of these policies, the country’s contributions to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are high compared to those of other African nations, both in aggregate and per capita terms. Some of the transportation and energy effects of apartheid include the following:

  • Land use policies were based on race and ethnicity, in which black residential areas were moved to the outskirts of growing urban areas and beyond, creating long commuting distances for most of the black poor.
  • Energy investments in innovative coal-based synthetic fuel processes were greatly expanded following international sanctions during the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Import substitution economic policies promoted the domestic motor vehicle manufacturing industry.
  • Generous company car allowances and subsidized vehicle schemes nurtured a market for private cars to support the domestic auto industry.
  • Public transportation services designed to serve long-distance commuters with low levels of service inspired black entrepreneurs to create informal services by minibus jitneys – van-type vehicles – for the many unserved travel needs. These services tend to be provided with inefficient vehicles resulting in higher energy consumption and emissions.

The good news is that South Africa has emerged from decades of apartheid policies with a functioning economy and extensive social and physical infrastructure. The bad news is that besides creating pervasive economic and social problems, apartheid polices led to a set of travel behaviors and transportation-related investments that increased energy use and GHG emissions.

Privatization is a second major phenomenon shaping South Africa’s transportation system and its energy and environmental performance. The country is steadily privatizing both its passenger and freight transportation systems, largely because of shrinking government funds and an inability to manage urban sprawl. The effects of privatization in the transportation sector have been positive in many ways – including expanded transit service and lower freight costs. But dwindling government subsidies and rapid growth in minibus jitney services have led to sharp ridership losses on the extensive rail and bus systems. This change has resulted in more energy use, GHG emissions, pollution, road deaths, and, paradoxically, continuing urban sprawl.

Minibus jitneys have come to dominate the provision of passenger transportation services. They are almost totally owned by black South Africans. In only two decades, jitneys have expanded to account for two-thirds of all public transportation services and over one-third of total passenger travel in South Africa. They are expensive relative to bus and rail transit, but ubiquitous, providing service to many poor travelers. Financial problems in the minibus jitney industry have led to increasingly old, dilapidated, uncomfortable, and unsafe vehicles, resulting in higher energy consumption and GHG emissions. The government is now attempting to organize and regulate the minibus jitney sector.

Privatization in the freight sector has also propelled large modal shifts from rail to truck. Until 1988, trucks were not allowed to compete with the government-owned railroad. When the freight sector was deregulated in 1988, truck use rapidly expanded, resulting in lower freight tariffs, and a large drop-off in rail use.

Overall, the combined effect of privatization and the apartheid legacy is inflated travel demand, growing use of motor vehicles and trucks, and use of high-carbon fuels. The challenge is to devise policies and strategies to redirect these behaviors and investments to create a more economical, environmental, and socially beneficial transportation system.

Numerous policy options exist to reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector. These policies affect when, how, where, and why people travel. Options range from adopting efficient advanced vehicle technologies to various administrative controls (including parking controls and car restriction zones) and economic measures (including additional vehicle and fuel taxes).

Environmental quality is not a high priority in South Africa, one of the few countries that does not regulate motor vehicle emissions of air pollutants. However, leaders are motivated to improve mobility, accessibility, and road safety, and reduce traffic congestion. Many of the strategies targeted at those goals will restrain GHG emissions:

  • Improve accessibility and mobility. Due to racial segregation, most South Africans live far away from employment centers and economic services. Improved public transportation is the most efficient means of enhancing mobility and accessibility. Enhanced public transportation would restrain growth in the use of personal vehicles, with associated reductions in the growth of GHG emissions.
  • Improve road safety. Road safety is a serious concern in South Africa. Policies that improve road safety, such as enforcing speed limits, scrapping older vehicles, and improving vehicle maintenance could help reduce GHG emissions.
  • Reduce traffic congestion. Congestion is increasing in all major areas and is expected to become a major problem shortly. Since South Africa does not have the funding to build many more roads, an improved public transportation system will be vital to ensure mobility for the vast majority of its people.
  • Increase tax revenue. Increasing fuel and vehicle taxes – an important source of government revenue – would help pay for social expenditures and raise the cost of private vehicle use.
  • Respond to international pressure. By ratifying the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, South Africa has become part of the global community that is committed to taking responsibility for its GHG emissions.

Two transportation scenarios were designed for South Africa – one that yielded higher GHG emissions by 2020, and one that yielded lower emissions. These scenarios draw upon extensive interviews with decision-makers and experts in South Africa.

The higher GHG scenario assumes a continuation of observable and emerging trends. In this ‘business-as-usual’ scenario, the government remains entangled in crisis management. It focuses on health, education and social unrest related to skewed income distributions, and ignores transportation concerns. Residual land use policies from apartheid continue to aggravate transportation problems. Cities remain divided and land developers give little consideration to the implications of long commuting distances. The automotive industry remains a pillar of economic development. Personal car use accelerates as car prices drop and consumer credit becomes more widely available.

In this scenario, private cars and minibuses increase their share of total passenger-kilometers from 51 percent in 2000 to 59 percent in 2020, while public transits share decreases from 49 to 41 percent. Minibus jitneys retain 60 percent of the public transit modal share. The effect on greenhouse gases is significant: South African emissions increase by 82 percent from 2000 to 2020.

In the lower GHG scenario, the motivation for change and government action are driven by mobility, accessibility, and safety concerns. The government plays an active role in land use policies and surface passenger transportation. Land use and housing policies are adopted that promote more efficient urban land use patterns, gradually correcting spatial imbalances and reducing travel distances. The government promotes public transportation, restructuring the minibus jitney, bus, and commuter rail sectors. Under the new structure, trains serve the routes with the densest population, buses serve the secondary routes and minibus jitneys provide feeder or local services. The sustainability of the public transportation system is ensured through revenues raised from dedicated taxes on vehicle buyers and users. South African auto manufacturers are provided with incentives to design and build buses and minibuses appropriate to the local market. Sasol, the large industrial company in South Africa that produces synthetic oil from coal, starts to use natural gas as feedstock in the production of synthetic fuel. This change would avoid the high costs of impending capital investments in coal mining, while harnessing the environmental benefits associated with the use of a cleaner feedstock.

This low-emissions scenario leads to enhanced quality of life and more efficient use of resources – urban land and energy – and decreased GHG emissions. The modal share of private cars and public transit remains approximately constant at 48 and 52 percent, respectively, but minibus jitneys suffer a significant decline in public transit modal share, from 65 percent in 2000 to 56 percent in 2020. Bus and rail transportation account for the remaining share of public transit mode share at 19 and 25 percent respectively. The result is a 12-percent decrease in GHG emissions despite the fact that passenger-kilometers increase by about 54 percent. The strategies in the low-emissions scenario are not necessarily costly, but they do require strong political will and a commitment that has yet to be demonstrated by South African leaders.