Sustainable transport indicators for Cape Town, South Africa: Advocacy, negotiation and partnership in transport planning
This paper charts the emergence of and the movement towards new thinking on sustainable
transport in the City of Cape Town, South Africa, and the adoption of a set of indicators for
sustainable transport. The paper centres on two themes. It reviews the sustainable transport
concepts debated and later adopted by the City of Cape Town. It then examines the day-to-day
practice of developing sustainable transport indicators in Cape Town over a 14-year period, from
the advent of democracy in 1994 to the present day, with a particular focus on the 2007 to 2009
period. The paper tries to shed light on the process by which ideas of sustainability get translated
into indicators in the midst of many constraints including limited staff resources, uncertain politics,
and changing policy priorities.
Keywords: Sustainable transport indicators; Equity; South Africa; Story-telling; Case study.
How does a city in South Africa move towards sustainable transport? What are the arguments
for sustainability that “stick” in a South African city? How do ideas of sustainability get
translated into indicators in the midst of so many constraints, including: limited staff
resources, uncertain politics, and changing policy priorities? What lessons can be learned from
this case study for other cities?
This paper charts the emergence and push towards new thinking around sustainable transport
in the City of Cape Town municipality and the adoption of a set of indicators for sustainable
transport. The paper centres on two themes. The first is substantive: the explanation of
sustainable transport concepts that were debated and later adopted by the City of Cape Town.
The theoretical constructs used at the time, and the connection between these and
sustainable transport indicators, are explained and discussed. The tensions between notions of
sustainability versus notions of job-creation or pro-poor development, and the state of local
government planning for sustainability, are also discussed in relation to the literature. In
particular, the difficulties of developing indicators for the previously unmeasured dimensions
of energy, emissions and urban quality are explored. Thus, the first theme is about substantive
content and “stickiness”: the conceptual content of sustainable transport indicators and the
indicators that appear to have stuck in Cape Town.
The second theme is procedural and presents a case study from the perspective of the author,
who was involved in the process of developing sustainable transport indicators in the City of
Cape Town as a freelance advisor to the non-governmental organization Sustainable Energy
Africa. The indicator development was part of a three year programme funded by the British
High Commission called “Tran:SIT” — Transformation towards Sustainable Integrated
Transport. The development of the indicators is traced over a 14-year period, starting at the
advent of democracy in 1994 to the present day, with a particular focus on the 2007 to 2009
period. This latter period is when the indicators were included in the draft Cape Town
Integrated Transport Plan, which was finally published for public comment in June 2009. It is
far from a neat case study story. There are coincidences, long periods of inactivity, many
meetings, papers, tensions, alliances, negotiations and advocacy. What matters in all of this?
In reality, how do existing practices shift towards something different? What does it take? And
what lessons, if any, can be taken from such stories? Although the focus of the paper is in the
presentation of the case, some reflection on broader questions is also included.
The two themes of “concepts” and “practice” are interwoven in the paper. This way of writing
reflects the author’s experience of the project process, whereby theory was developed in the
course of day-to-day communication and practice. Case study work in science and technology
studies has also found, through close attention to case study material, that theory is
developed in the context of shared, tacit, forms of practice (Knorr-Cetina, 1981). Practice
stories of transport planning are rarely told, although there are exceptions (Flyvbjerg, 1998;
Garb, 2004), but there are good and long-standing arguments as to why they should be told
more or better. The third part of the paper discusses practice stories and the knowledge that
could be gained from more stories of the practical reality of transport planning practices
(Wachs, 1985; Forester, 1993; Watson, 2002; Sandercock, 2003; Flyvbjerg, 2004).
2. Sustainable transport concepts in practice in South Africa
2.1. What is meant by “environment” and “sustainable”?
Discussions of sustainability in Cape Town transport planning during the 1994 to 2009 period
have tended to follow the classic Brundtland definition: as meeting “the [human] needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
(WCED, 1987; DEAT, 1997). Sustainability has tended to be equated with environment but
away from transport planning. Meanwhile environmental and sustainability conceptualizations
have undergone a noticeable shift, from a definition of environment that mainly focused on
bio-physical aspects to a more all-encompassing one.
The contemporary definition of sustainable development for South Africa is defined in the
National Environmental Management Act of 1998 (NEMA) as “the integration of social,
economic and environmental factors into planning, implementation and decision-making so as
to ensure that development serves present and future generations”, which confirms the
progress from a purely bio-physical consideration of environment in planning towards
something more all-encompassing within a sustainability concept.
Sowman and Brown (2006) have described sustainability and environmental management as
significant elements in development discourse and policy in South Africa, but they have noted
that the translation of such principles, in particular into local integrated planning, has not been
forthcoming. Some of the reasons given for this tardy practical application are the historical
legacy of planning physical, racially segregated forms, rather than procedural ones; and the
previous use of environmental management as a covert mask for forced displacement and for
creating facilities for the elite. Sowman and Brown also identify professional antipathy
between those in the environmental sector and planning professions as problematic, and they
argue for recognition of the long, complex and conflicted local government restructuring
processes which, according to Pieterse, have resulted in “deep organizational trauma”
(Pieterse, 2004). Swilling (2006) expresses similar views, and highlights the lack of attention
given to ecological issues in Cape Town, even in the context of high expenditure on municipal
infrastructure over the 2004–07 period in South Africa and expansionary, state-led economic
2.2. What is meant by “transport”?
Many of the present day practices of transport planning can be traced back to the 1950s and
1960s (Creighton, 1970; Weiner, 1999), a period of relative prosperity in the global North. The
practices were developed to facilitate the large-scale construction of the inter- and intra-city
freeways and arterial roadways, which were perceived to be prerequisites for the efficiency,
economy and safety of private vehicles. The cultural emphasis was on suburbanism and
individual freedom to travel. The planning that took place, exemplified by the early planning
exercises using computer models of Chicago and Detroit in the 1950s, concerned the efficient
movement of private cars in comfort (high levels of service) and at speed (high efficiency). The
needs of public transport and pedestrians or cyclists received little or no attention. This
American style of planning was exported across the globe, including to South Africa (Taylor,
In the North, this status quo was progressively challenged, as growing environmental
awareness resulted in policies focusing on the improvement of air quality while also requiring
the transport planning process to pay greater attention to social, environmental and economic
impacts of transport. In the UK, a conference on “Transport: the New Realism” in 1991
(Goodwin et al., 1990) and the publication of a report by the Standing Advisory Committee on
Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA) in 1994 on the traffic impacts of road capacity lead to a
watershed change in how future traffic patterns were forecast. Cairns called this “the formal
demise of predict and provide” (Cairns, 1998), which was a label then given to conventional
transport planning (Owens, 1995).
As the North moved away from predict and provide, South Africa was edging towards
democracy, which finally came in April 1994. Post-1994 was a period of intense policy and
legal shifting, as the old apartheid-driven policies gradually made way for a more democratic
focus. Following South Africa’s first democratic elections in April 1994, transport planning
practice and the definition of what was meant by “transport” came under increasing scrutiny,
as the needs of the poor and middle-classes rose up the political agenda.
In 1999, the National Department of Transport developed a new policy paper: Moving South
Africa. This marked a change in discourse, which could be summarized as shifts in attention
from supply-side to demand-side; from commuter-based to customer-based; from private car
to public transport prioritization; from deregulated to regulated public transport (with
competition for routes rather than on routes). The reference to commuters reflected the
apartheid policy of providing for the transport of black commuters to economic centres, while
the customer focus flagged a re-orientation to black travelers as being more than only workers
for an economy. In addition, there was a greater emphasis on integrated planning (within legal
frameworks requiring Integrated Transport Plans).
It is easy to argue, with reference to policy texts, that policy and discourse shifted substantially
post-democracy but, as Sowman and Brown have also argued, the story is rather more
complex, since at the practical level, little changed in the 1990s. Transport planners and traffic
engineers were not immediately re-educated as post-apartheid planners, and major shifts in
transport implementation and spending trends were not evident. At a political level, Thabo
Mbeki’s second term reflected some frustration with lack of change on the ground.
2.3. What is meant by sustainable transport?
In discussions on sustainable transport, the issue of greenhouse gases tends to have a high
profile. However, on an international scale, and similar to other developing countries, the
South African transport sector is a relatively minor contributor to greenhouse gases. In
addition to the well-known energy, pollution and safety impacts of transport, there are other,
less obvious, but arguably as important impacts of transport on sustainability in a Southern
context. The structure of transport infrastructure in an urban area fundamentally impacts its
spatial form and the quality of its living environment. At a macro scale, an orientation towards
private cars at the expense of walking and cycling results in a sprawling conurbation, which is
relatively less fuel efficient and more polluting. A more compact urban form encourages
shorter trips and is universally more accessible, which in turn affects not only economic
efficiencies but also, arguably, increases social interaction. Transport infrastructure dominated
by cars is particularly space inefficient (Tolley and Turton, 1995).
In addition to spatial problems, transport is unique in the urban utilities in the way in which it
has an impact on the temporal budget of urban inhabitants. Simply put, an effective transport
system can reduce travelling time and provide travellers with additional time resources. It is
debatable how this additional time would be spent, but in the South African context it is
difficult to argue against the position that time spent travelling by the urban poor is
enormously costly, both financially and in terms of loss of time in family life. Research in the
Pretoria area indicates that short (10–15 km) commuters have up to 3.5 hours more free time
per day than long distance (60–130 km) commuters (Fourie and Morris, 1985). One survey
indicated that low-income household members took on average less than 2 trips per day,
compared with almost 3.5 trips per person per day in a high income household. In high income
households, 94% have access to a motor car; whereas in a low-income household, 97% are
without access. The poor spend more time travelling, with a typical commute to work taking
more than three-quarters of an hour, as compared with less than half an hour for the high-
income (Behrens, 2001), raising issues of the intrinsic inequity in South African transport
systems (Vasconcellos, 2001). Such findings are not unique to South Africa, as the poor choose
to live peripherally, even in the absence of formal apartheid, for affordability reasons
Although the rhetoric in favour of sustainability and the environment is well established, many
competing agendas and interests prevent it from being a policy priority. While Vasconcellos
(1997) argues that road safety is an appropriate focus for developing countries, an argument
which is supported by international data, the larger competing discourse locally in the
transport sector is that of economic growth. Urban planners and environmental managers are
familiar, from their training and practice, with the tensions inherent in multiple aims of “green,
growing and just” cities (Campbell, 1996), but for engineers working as transport planners, this
is far less familiar territory.
South African cities have been politically characterized as dual economies, with one economy
serving the needs of the formal and affluent, while the other economy serves the needs of the
informal and disadvantaged.1
Transport planning in South Africa has traditionally allocated
money on high quality roads and public transport for formally employed commuters. The
unemployed, the poor and the informal were traditionally marginalized, either in the informal
taxi sector or in the unmaintained pedestrian spaces on the edge of roads or in poorly
maintained, sometimes non-existent roads in townships and informal settlements. There are,
therefore, two pressing arguments for redressing traditional transport patterns: the equity and
social justice argument in the light of a democratic, post-apartheid South Africa, and the
energy and climate argument. Presently, neither is high on the local political agenda, which is
dominated by a discourse of basic service delivery and economic growth.
In this context, how
can we move towards sustainability in the transport sector and at the same time address the
issues of inequity and poverty?
In 2002, at the beginning of the case study described in section 3 of this paper, these topics
were even less prominent in a Southern context, and the intellectual resources attending to
transport and sustainability issues were extremely sparse. The resources available were mainly
in the form of “grey”, non-academic literature, found in reports online or through word-of-
mouth, supplemented by academic literature where available. The sustainable livelihoods
framework, developed by the Department for International Development (DfID) in the UK, but
also used by the World Bank and others (Carney et al., 1999), attempted to address the
parallel needs for addressing inequities, poverty alleviation and improved sustainability.
sustainable livelihoods framework is now well known in development circles and so a detailed
description is not given here. Suffice it to say, the principles were adopted as a framing device
for the sustainable transport indicators, with one adjustment. To the classic five types of
capital: natural, human, social, physical and financial, time was added as a sixth type. It is the
ability of transport interventions to deliver time savings to the poor that distinguishes
transport from other infrastructural improvements; and thus, time was included in early
thinking for the project around sustainable livelihoods and transport.
1 Data on carbon footprints, however, suggest multiple economies in Cape Town, with the top 20% income
earners currently having a carbon footprint of 5–15 planets, while the poorest 20% have lifestyles which are
sustainable on the one planet available. The median income earners have lifestyles which are creeping beyond a
one planet footprint, but Swilling (2006) suggests that they could be sustainable with some efficiency
adjustments. These data present the inherent inefficiency of Cape Town infrastructure in stark terms, and given
that transport accounts for on average 54% of the City energy use, it is clear that the road infrastructure and
spatial configuration of the City is problematic (SEA, 2006).
Swilling (2006) argues that while the growth–infrastructure nexus has received some attention in the literature,
the growth–infrastructure–sustainability nexus has not received the attention it deserves. Boschmann and Kwan
(2008) argue that both the urban sustainability and the social dimensions of sustainable urban transport are areas
that are insufficiently researched, even in the USA, and certainly the literature on the social equity–sustainability
nexus for the South is sparse.
According to its developers, the sustainable livelihoods approach differs from other approaches to development
by putting people (rather than the resources they use, or governments) at the centre of development; building on
people’s strengths rather than needs; incorporating all relevant aspects of people’s lives; and emphasizing links
between policy and household decisions (Institute of Development Studies, 2009).
2.4. Indicators for sustainable transport: a proliferation of possibilities
Sustainability can be evaluated using a set of measurable indicators to track trends, compare
areas and activities, evaluate options and set performance targets. At the time of the project,
the literature already presented many possible indicators (see the indicators specifically
related to sustainable urban transport, developed by the Centre for Sustainable Transport,
2002; Jeon and Amekudzi, 2005; and Litman and Burwell, 2006). South African specific
indicators have been suggested by Sweet (1981); Ringwood and Mare (1992); DoT (1999) and
Krynauw and Cameron (2003).
Inevitably, international programmes also attend to indicators. In the 2000–05 period when
indicators were reviewed for the project, UN-HABITAT’s Global Urban Laboratory had an urban
indicators programme that had two transport indicators (travel time and transport modes
used), and data for four transport indicators are collected under its urban inequity survey
(IFRTD, 2004). Also in 2004, the Sub-Saharan Africa Transport Programme (SSATP) published
details of their SSATP Transport Indicator Initiative project, which aimed to coordinate and
promote efforts to establish a common set of key transport sector performance indicators
(SSATP, 2004). Meanwhile, Gilbert and Tanguay (2000) had written a “Brief Review of Some
Relevant Worldwide Activity and Development of an Initial Long List of [sustainability] Indicators”. The list contained more than 150 indicators.
When Paul Barter (2005) asked “measurement matters but do we measure what really
matters?” he captured the essence of the problem facing those choosing indicators: how do
we decide what really matters? Section 3 of the paper examines this question in light of the
Cape Town experience.
3. Choosing sustainable transport indicators in Cape Town, South Africa
This part of the paper offers a short practice story of a period of transport planning practice
spanning seven years, through different projects but with one recurring theme: assessment
One version of the story is this: it began with a phone call, in 2002 between a university
professor with links to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, due to be held that
year in Johannesburg, who had discovered via an internet search a young lecturer with a
nascent interest in transport and the environment (Kane, 2001). American funders were
looking for a new paper, an input for the summit from South Africa, although the funding
could possibly stretch beyond 2002, and this could be a “legacy” project. Did the lecturer have
any ideas? Some more chance encounters, or what social scientists call contingencies,
occurred: the author; some availability of time; and an interest in tensions between Cost
Benefit Analysis and the full impacts of transport, particularly as they relate to the urban poor
in South Africa. The funder was interested in new assessment practices, perhaps something
sustainable? And so the idea of a project developing an assessment framework for Integrated
and Sustainable Transport (ISTAF) was born. “Integrated”, was a strong theme at that time in
South Africa and internationally. “Sustainable” was there because of the funder, the upcoming
World Summit and the mood of the moment. “Assessment Framework” was used because,
given the critique, something more than cost–benefit analyses seemed necessary (Pearce and
Nash, 1981; Vasconcellos, 2001). This is how projects work: a compromise is reached between
the demands and agendas of the funder, the interests and availability of the consultant and
the contingencies of the moment. If any of these things had been different, then the outcome,
too, could have been different. This initial project ran from 2002 into 2003 as a collaboration
between the Urban Transport Research Group and the Environmental Evaluation Unit at the
University of Cape Town. The project plan, created through a series of meetings between the
funder and the project team, was to develop a practical framework for the assessment of
policies, programmes and projects in the South African transport sector which would address
the environmental and integrated planning requirements of policy and legislation, work with
local and national government and develop teaching material on integrated and sustainable
transport assessment frameworks.
Literature review work on sustainability, integrated planning, sustainable transport and
indicators took place throughout the project duration. The project also included a Current
Practice review of local and international transport planning and environmental practice
(Kruger et al., 2003). The Current Practice review found that “integrated” transport planning
was not being undertaken in the manner intended by legislation and that environmental
concerns were frequently seen by transport planners and engineers to add to the cost (time
and money) of development initiatives and, as such, were not a high priority in the early stages
of the planning and decision-making process (Barbour and Kane, 2003). The interviews
seemed to indicate a need for guidelines for integrated sustainable transport planning.
The agenda of the initial project was to take up the call from practitioners for a fresh approach
to transport assessment. Although the original intention had been to develop a full assessment
framework, it was clear that this would not be possible in the duration of the project, and a
compromise was struck: the development of a checklist of criteria. The development of this
list, the Integrated and Sustainable Transport Checklist (ISTC), was informed by the
information collected from practitioners, a review of additional literature on transport
planning in the context of the developing world, and numerous discussions and debates
between the members of the project team and the US consultants on the project.
The ISTC consisted of a set of tables which asked a series of questions about both the planning
process being undertaken and the specific project intervention being planned. These questions
are based on: the so-called Bellagio principles for sustainable transport (Hardi and Zdan,
1997); South African legal principles in force in September 2003; and concepts from the
sustainable livelihoods framework described above. The final checklist was divided into four
components (see Appendix for a presentation of the complete checklist).
Part 1: a checklist of the issues to be considered when defining the proposed transport
intervention. This was based on South African environmental sector scoping work (Booz-
Allen and Hamilton, 2003).
Part 2: a legal checklist for the transport planning process. This checklist was divided into
five components, namely open and transparent decision-making process; cooperative
governance; integrated planning; public participation and a summary of the constitutional
rights relating to sustainable development. This work was based on a review, undertaken
by research lawyers, of the relevant legislation related to the environment and
sustainability. An example of the referencing used is given for the sustainable development
Part 3: a checklist for identifying and assessing the resources which may be impacted by
the intervention, comprising natural, physical, human, social, financial capitals and time.
Part 4: a summary of the whole checklist.
The intention was that the practitioner could use the tables to inform the design of the
transport planning process (the starting point for a decision-making process); as a check for an
existing or proposed plan, programme or project; or as a tool for the discussion of a project
within professional teams. In all cases, it was intended to raise awareness regarding
sustainable development. This ISTC was not field tested due to insufficient project time.
3.1. From checklist to computer tool
In 2005, more money became available to further develop the checklist into a full computer
assessment tool, through a partnership between the University of Cape Town and an NGO,
Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA). This stage of the work involved research into the availability of
data for use in the tool and the development of benchmarks. The gaps between the ideals of
the checklist and the paucity of the data available became clear during this stage and several
criteria were adapted to the data that were available or were expected to become available in
the future. Towards the end of the process, the work on the computer tool was made
available online and was presented and discussed with local government actors, who almost
universally saw the need for such a tool but who expressed some doubt about its practicality
given their time constraints. At this stage of the process, the reality constraints of local
government confronted the desires of the funder, consultants and NGO. Despite robust
conceptualizing undertaken earlier in the project, use of the best data available and the input
of many strong minds, the reality of under-resourced local government trumped the other
factors. Although the computer tool was publicized through a roadshow and was widely
acknowledged, it has not to date been formally adopted. The message was that sustainability
was not seen as a priority by transport planners, and additional processes would not be
followed unless they were regulated, legalized or better promoted.
3.2. Transformation towards Integrated and Sustainable Transport (Tran:SIT)
During 2006, the issue of sustainable development and sustainable assessment for the City of
Cape Town again came under the spotlight with the launch of a new project funded by the
British High Commission called Tran:SIT. This project was intended to follow the successful
“SEED” model whereby the NGO Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA) partners with the local
government sector in capacity-building and in projects aimed towards improving the
sustainability of the energy sector. Under the SEED approach, SEA helps local governments to
recruit and employ professional staff; these staff are trained in concepts and practices related
to sustainable energy and then placed, with financial support from a Danish funder (DANCED/
DANIDA) via the NGO, in local government. These professionals act as agents of change within
government but are also welcomed as additional resources for their host departments. In
time, the employment contracts are transferred onto the local government payroll (SEA,
For the Tran:SIT project, SEA employed the author as an advisor on transport related matters
and as a mentor to the young “sustainable transport professional” (STP) in the City. The
project was initiated with some debate between the partners about the meaning of
sustainable transport in the South African context. The knowledge gained from earlier projects
was used to establish some shared conceptual understanding within the NGO–advisor–STP
team. Meanwhile, partnership was developed between the team and the City of Cape Town
staff more generally through feedback and discussion on the existing City sustainability policies
and a review of the existing Integrated Transport Plan. These discussions were normally
responses to requests from the City or the STP and generally were not pre-planned by the
NGO. They tended to emerge organically throughout the project in response to regular
meetings on site between the City managers and the NGO project manager. (Jennings and
Covary, 2008) One of the activities that the Tran:SIT programme initiated was a review of the
first draft of the 2006 Integrated Transport Plan through a sustainability lens, which fed into
the debates about transport policy and planning focused on sustainability.
Part of the Integrated Transport Plan review process undertaken towards the start of the Tran:SIT project
was a review of the City’s existing indicator set. This set of nineteen indicators in use at the City at the
beginning of Tran:SIT (see Appendix Table A1) were a substantial shift towards sustainability from what
had been used for project assessment in the past. They were considerably less comprehensive in their
scope than the criteria and indicators developed in the earlier ISTC and computer model work described
above. This was a watershed moment for the Tran:SIT team — should they push for a more
comprehensive, probably more conceptually robust set of indicators, as developed as ISTC and for the
computer tool or adopt a pragmatic approach and work with the City’s existing indicator set? Given the
experience of non-adoption of the earlier checklist and computer tool and the SEA modus operandi of
working from within and fully engaging with the reality of the local government partner, the decision was
straightforward. The existing City indicator set was taken as the starting point for further work, and this is
reproduced without edits in Table 1.
Table 1. Sustainable transportation indicators for Cape Town city
Energy use for transport Consumption of Non-
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Total GHG emissions
(Megatonnes of CO2
Per Capita Expenditure on Roads, and parking supply
Rands per inhabitant of
Commuters using NMT as Main Mode Percentage
Population living within 500 m of nearest public transport
facility and service
Public right of way (+ public parking) per capita m
Average Total Journey Time Time Unit
No. of Job Opportunities, commercial services and
educational facilities within 5 km of residents
Modal split NMT: mass transit:
Ratio of No. of Daily Passenger trips by public transport:
Public transport standee + seating capacity
Generalized cost of Movement of goods and services Percentage of total cost
of goods and services to
Condition of transport infrastructure Visual Condition Index of
Portion of household income devoted to transport Percentage
Per capita Accident Cost for Fatal and Serious Accidents
Accessibility of infrastructure by mobility disadvantaged,
Survey. During typical
week day trip on a
typical journey, count
the number of
Sum all and determine
Car and bicycle ownership per 1,000 population Number of Cars and
Bicycles per 1,000
Transport impacts on the Livability of Community Survey: converted to a
Public participation Structured sessions with
civil society and other
Source: City of Cape Town (2006), p. 27.
Towards the end of 2007, a Change Management workshop was held with staff from the City
of Cape Town’s Transport, Roads and Stormwater Directorate. All staff with a role impacting
the sustainability of the transport sector in the City were invited and approximately 20
attended. There were multiple purposes of the workshop, but the indicators in place at the
time (Table 1) were used as a tool for discussing the meaning of sustainability and the best
means of measuring progress towards it. The discussion focused on the appropriateness of the
criteria, the best means of measuring and the availability of data. One of the decisions taken at
the meeting was to review and refine these Sustainable Transport Indicators.
Following the workshop, data availability for the indicators was assessed through interviews
with staff at the City. A visit from the Brazilian author and transport planner Eduardo
Vasconcellos reinforced the findings of the interviews — that data availability was insufficient
or non-existent and not in line with international standards for urban transport data. This
reflected the South African approach to transport planning, modeling and attendant data
collection, which has tended to reflect the US concerns of the 1980s and 1990s: private vehicle
efficiency, road safety, and more recently emissions. The approaches attended mainly to car
drivers or commuter traffic. Hence, the data collection was most often focused on the central
business areas, at peak times and with a vehicular rather than person lens (Behrens, 2004).
Post-1994, the data collection on public transport has improved significantly, and there has
been more focus on non-commuter trips, off-peak and walk or cycle trips. Despite additional
staff resources, this is not as yet mainstreamed in Cape Town at the city level. Changes in staff
and lack of resources for data collection were cited as reasons for the poor data availability
during the project. The data situation was considered in depth, and the sustainable transport
indicator set was adjusted accordingly, to reflect the reality of data availability.
In the last year of the project, the City was required to update its Integrated Transport Plan
and awarded a consultancy project to assist with that process. Hence, at a relatively late stage
in the partnership between SEA and the City, a third party came in, with substantial influence
over the form of the indicator set. The indicator set again proved to be a sticking point, and
several discussions were held between the City, SEA and the consultants to uphold and justify
the choices which had been made in adjusting the indicator set. At this time, the SEA–City
partnership formally ended, due to the funding cycle ending, although the sustainable
transport professional was by now a full-time staff member at the City, and SEA continued an
informal linkage with the City staff.
3.3. End of the SEA process: adjusted sustainable transport indicators
In the last months of the project, SEA elected to focus on finalizing the indicators. The final
eleven indicators recommended to the City by SEA for inclusion in their transport assessment
computer programme, and for use as strategic indicators, are shown in Table 2.
Table 2: “Key performance indicator summary” adopted in 2009.
1. Energy use 5. Congestion on major freight routes
2. Emissions 6. Congestion on peak hour commuter
3. Full modal split 7. Loss of life and livelihood
4. Public transport use 8. Urban quality
4.2 Public transport coverage
4.3 Public transport service quality
4.4 Public transport security
Source: City of Cape Town (2009), p. 21.
These were a negotiated indicator set, chosen in the context of historical precedent, including
the knowledge gained during the ISTC process; the state of current understanding of the
meaning of sustainable transport; and constraints on data availability at the City of Cape
Town. They were discussed at length between the City, the ITP review consultants and SEA
representatives. In this section the rationale for each indicator is outlined and discussed.
An energy use indicator was easily acceptable to SEA, since the energy use of transport in
South African cities (estimated at more than 50% of total energy use (SEA, 2006)) provided
SEA’s original motivation for developing the Tran:SIT project. For this city’s work, energy use
data was calculated using urban petrol and diesel data from the South Africa Petroleum
Industry Association and trip and distance travelled data from the local rail census data, which
enabled an energy use calculation to be made. There is a certain amount of error in the fuel
indicator due to long-distance travellers who may fill tanks in a city but travel inter-city. This
was accepted as an inevitable error, and the correction that would be possible by surveying
the long distance sector was not considered cost-effective given other gaps in the data. Bus
and taxi energy use were estimated using data from the Current Public Transport Record
Emissions were estimated using a fuel-emission relationship, calculated using emissions
factors of CO2 for fossil fuels and electricity. In this way, changes in the emission indicator will
mirror changes in the fuel indicator, but the importance of highlighting emissions as an issue
to decision-makers justified the separate inclusion of this indicator in the set.
The Current Public Transport Record survey requires regular data collection on the public
transport fleet, resulting in annual public transport records, a comprehensive survey of
boardings and alightings. Public transport plays a key role in Cape Town’s existing transport
system but, like many cities, has an overall declining market share, a development which has
not escaped the notice of local transport planners. The Provincial government had as a by-line
“Public Transport First”. Substantial Bus Rapid Transit projects are under way in both
Johannesburg and Cape Town, with others in the planning stages. Given the relatively low
urban densities of South African cities and the apartheid policies of the 1960s–1980s that
relocated black and coloured residents to the urban periphery, public transport retains a key
social and environmental role. The high subsidies paid to public transport operators to service
the dispersed population and the sometimes volatile nature of the mini-bus taxi industry mean
that public transport is often high on the political agenda. Through support for public
transport, SEA believed the sustainability agenda could also be served. The original modal split
indicator was thought to be insufficient on its own to reflect a move towards sustainability, as
increased use (or the slowing of the rate of decline in use) could mean many things: increased
poverty, increased congestion and not necessarily a change due to the transport work
activities of the City.
Coverage of the public transport system and quality of the same were added as indicators that
more directly monitored the efforts of the City towards a system that would serve the needs
of the travelling public. The final indicator for public transport, security, is the issue often
raised by car drivers as their reason for not considering public transport and is an aspect the
City has attended to in recent years, with some success reported.
Throughout the process of considering public transport indicators, a balance was sought by
SEA between the understandable wish of the City to shift people from cars to public transport
and the evident trend in the middle classes of a move to car ownership, often for the first
time. Attention to shift implies attention to the wealthy, existing car-owners, who live and also
tend to work in different spaces from the aspirant car-owning middle classes. A policy focus on
retention implies a different set of strategies, more focused on the poorer end of the
population. Given the relatively low resource base, it was felt necessary to focus on the most
likely “wins” for sustainability: with the middle classes.
Full modal split was included as a place for monitoring the role of walking and cycling in the
City. Walking is obviously a key accompanying mode for public transport trips, but is also an
important mode in its own right in the poorest communities and has traditionally been under-
resourced and only in recent years has a non-motorized staff member been allocated at the
City government level. Cycling is a high profile leisure activity, and cycle infrastructure has
been added alongside all the new Bus Rapid Transit lines in the City, but traditionally, walking
and cycling have not been included in survey indicators or assessment processes (Behrens,
The original City set of indicators included two focused on congestion. SEA made a case
against the inclusion of a generalized congestion indicator, arguing that congestion alleviation
was not the focus of a sustainable transport policy. Some of the measures under discussion
(increased attention to public transport) could, in theory, lead to an alleviation of congestion,
but this would not necessarily be the case (due to the possibilities of induced traffic infilling
any capacity which may be gained) (Behrens and Kane, 2004). Instead, congestion on major
freight routes was inserted as an attempt to ensure and capture the role that transport plays
in the efficient operation of the macroeconomy, particularly given Cape Town’s role as a port,
although the actual importance of congestion on these freight routes was not researched
during the project. Finally, congestion on peak hour commuter routes was included in an
attempt to capture the widely held view that excessive commuter congestion also impacts on
The traditional “accident” indicator was re-worded into loss of life and livelihood in order to
bring attention to the outcome of road-based fatality and injury and to humanize a statistic
which has lost some of its gravitas due to its familiarity. In vulnerable, poor communities the
impact of death is, arguably, disproportionately high and South Africa has a particularly poor
record on road safety.
All team members saw the importance of bringing into the indicator set some attention to the
role that transport and street infrastructure plays in the quality of urban life. The lobbying of
Enrique Penalosa, who had visited the City several times and the work of the Dignified Urban
Places project in Cape Town (Southworth, 2003) had been particularly influential in this
respect. The engineers sought a measurable indicator for urban quality that could be included
alongside the others, and many alternatives were discussed: amount of time spent on design
per kilometer; number of design staff; audited assessments of new work; people (particularly
children) on the street; and value of properties after improvements. SEA believed that the shift
towards urban quality would mean a shift in practice towards a better engagement between
the urban planning and design staff in the City and the engineering sections responsible for
transport, and they initiated meetings between them to discuss the urban quality indicator
and to co-develop a suitable measure for inclusion in the ITP.
4. Concluding remarks
Even after more than ten years of democracy, South Africa remains “one of the most
consistently unequal countries in the world” (Bhorat and Van der Westhuizen, 2010). Income
inequality, apart from the obvious moral implications, has been linked to unstable and poor
quality democracy and high crime rates. The need for strategies targeted towards different
income groups, also suggested by the footprint data discussed earlier, implies a need for more
disaggregated strategies and also more disaggregated data. Unfortunately, the need for more
disaggregated data does not fit with the reality of resource constraints; the outcome is a poor
dataset, struggling to represent a highly complex, disaggregated and rapidly changing context.
The same argument applies to the choice and use of indicators. More complexity calls for
more representation and a set of indicators ideally collected by gender, income and age for a
fuller appreciation of the context, but this need is in tension with the realities of planning
practices in the City.
In November 2009, the latest Integrated Transport Plan was published, but in this version, the
earlier indicator set of nineteen had been replaced with outline headings for the indicator set
and a statement: “The City is working on the development of a set of indicators that can and
will be measured and monitored continuously to check progress towards a more sustainable
transport system. Values for some of these indicators, such as road fatalities and injuries, and
average travel speeds on certain network segments during different operating periods are
already available. Others require work to obtain and are to be developed in future updates of
the ITP.” (City of Cape Town, 2009, p. 21) So the story of developing sustainable transport
indicators at the City of Cape Town does not have a neat ending. It remains a messy, complex
work in progress.
We now come back to the questions posed at the beginning of the paper, in light of the case
described. How do ideas of sustainability get translated into indicators in the midst of so many
constraints? The experience of the Tran:SIT project suggests that any partnering organization
needs to be sufficiently aligned with the work of the City such that that they can see moments
of leverage that the City may not always see. This has been theorized (see, for example,
Meadows, 1999) while for SEA it appeared to be a skill acquired through many years of earlier
experience working on the SEED project and on other local government projects. They were
able to see moments of leverage in the form of a consultancy meeting, a staffing budget
discussion or an informal chat with a politician. In this way, big progress could be made in
seemingly small encounters. The set of skills needed for doing this is not part of traditional
engineering, planning or environmental training, although all work with branches of it. While
engineers concern themselves with material and technological complexity, planners focus on
social complexity and environmental planners with bio-physical complexity. All overlap, none
are comprehensive, nor can they be. Law (1987, 2000) and others have noted the ability of
change agents to be “heterogeneous engineers”, able to work across material, physical and
social boundaries in situations of dynamic emergent complexity. SEA’s work appears to be able
to straddle boundaries, sectors and scales in this way.
What are the arguments for sustainability which can stick in a South African city? The
conceptual approach, followed by the author and the NGO, to blend sustainability concepts
with an overt poverty alleviation agenda in a comprehensive framework, may seem a neat
marriage but it was met with some initial skepticism by the City’s professionals. Upon
reflection, this was probably a case of too much new information for those staff. Over time,
the consensus and focus on the City team did appear to shift, from a position where attention
was focused mainly on ensuring efficiency while reducing emissions to a more balanced triple
bottom line approach with poverty alleviation given due attention, although this did not
emerge strongly in the indicators published. The efficacy of a multi-pronged policy approach
was highlighted to the City professionals when they were asked to present the Integrated
Transport Plan to politicians and unions in the final stages of the project; they were met with
questions primarily about job creation and poverty alleviation through basic service delivery.
What had stuck initially with the engineers, both at the City and in the consultancy, was a
sustainability which could coexist with transport engineering concerns for efficiency, economy
and safety, as encapsulated in cost–benefit analysis. What stuck for the consultants was a
transport sustainability which was not an extreme shift in practice. What was more appealing
to the political wing was a transport sustainability which met broader political agendas of job
creation and poverty alleviation.
The lesson is clear. In the short term, I would argue that there will be not be significant shifts
towards sustainable transport in Cape Town, in South Africa and most likely in Africa more
generally, unless strategies can be found that both acknowledge the efficiency–safety
paradigm within which transport planners and engineers operate and work within the existing
political context of pro-poor job creation and basic service delivery. The challenge for
practitioners is to find such win–win strategies, knowing that new foci towards walking,
cycling, and public investment for the poor are counter to mainstream planning thinking, tools,
and data collection.
The story of the indicators for the City of Cape Town told here is a bumpy one and contrasts
strongly with the anaesthetized versions of transport planning processes found in engineering
text books, which suggest that the transport planning process is neat, linear and progressive.
Watson (2002) has shown that the telling of detailed practice stories is important, as a source
of learning which can inform better practice, but what can be learned from these practice
stories by those in an active role? In Tran:SIT, SEA took the pragmatic route, acknowledging all
role players and intuitively working with the realities of the power structures in place. In so
doing, they were able to create partnerships and to influence from within. The missed
opportunity in doing this, however, is that the less powerful, “quieter” agendas which are not
mainstreamed in either transport politics or transport engineering are lost. Gender, for
example, has been raised as a key issue in poverty alleviation efforts in the transport sector
(Grieco and Turner, 1997) but, according to Seddon (2003), relatively little attention has been
given to gender in transport planning and development. Equity has been similarly highlighted
(Vasconcellos, 2001). Analysis of urban transport through an equity or gendered lens implies
attention to detailed data, which resource constrained local government cannot readily afford.
As a consequence, the picture reflected by the available data is partial and distorted towards
traditional priorities and not towards progressive policy and legal frameworks. While already
stretched local government agencies may argue that this attention to detail is burdensome
and unrealistic, failing to address it results in leaving the question of Vasconcellos (2003):
“whose sustainability are we pursuing?” unanswered.
Theoretical understanding of the role that transport infrastructure investment may play in the
informal urban economy, and in supporting the livelihoods of the poor, is sparse. This means
that arguments for a more holistic look at transport investment, which pushes its role beyond
the traditionally conceived support for the formal economy, are difficult to make. Progressive
policy, legal frameworks and tools enacting these are insufficient mechanisms on their own for
effecting change. The experience of this case suggests that under-resourced and
organizationally traumatized local governments are not easy grounds for change towards
sustainable transport. The support of partner organizations, as in house partners-in-practice
rather than consultants, was essential in enabling the day-to-day support and knowledge input
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Table A1. Sustainable transport checklist.
Integrated Sustainable Transport Checklist
Part 1: Identification of needs and applicability of intervention
Has the policy/plan/project identification and planning process taken into account:
The level of intervention of the proposed policy/plan/project and size of the affected area/s.
Social and economic characteristics of the affected area/s, including political, institutional, religious and cultural characteristics.
Current land-uses (formal and informal) and economic (formal and informal) activities in the affected area/s.
Current location of community facilities, such as schools, hospitals, police stations, clinics, libraries, community halls, churches and crèches in the affected area/s.
Current type and location of transport infrastructure and modes, including non-motorized transport modes such as pedestrians, bicycles, horse drawn carts etc in the
Current operating hours and costs associated with public transport modes.
Current transport user groups and their needs, with specific reference to vulnerable groups such as women, children, elderly and the disabled in the affected area/s.
Current economic development needs in the affected area/s.
Vulnerable social and economic groups in the affected area/s and their economic development and transport needs?
Existing/proposed transport, land-use planning and economic development policies, plans and initiatives for the affected area/s?
Predicted future transport and economic development needs in the affected area/s.
Transport alternatives, including infrastructure, location and modal alternatives in the affected area/s.
Part 2: Legal requirements affecting transport planning in South Africa
Does the project identification and planning process take into account the following legal requirements:
Open and transparent decision-making
The need to uphold the constitutional right of individuals and the public to administrative action that is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair.
The need to foster transparency in public administration by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information.
The need to promote accountable public administration.
The need to ensure the provision of information to those affected by the laws, procedures & administrative practice relating to land development.
The need to enable public access to information and ‘records’.
The need to promote open and transparent decision making.
The need to provide adequate written reasons for decisions taken.
The need to promote procedural fairness in administrative decision-making that affects individuals as well as the public.
The need to ensure that administrative action is based on ‘adequate’ reasons.
The need to ensure that issues considered in the decision-making process and the manner in which they are considered can be explained and justified.
The need to give effect to the principle of co-operative governance.
The need to undertake ‘development-orientated’ planning.
The need to promote ‘efficient and integrated land-use planning and development’ by –
Promoting the integration of the social, economic, institutional and physical components of land use planning and development, and:
Promoting integrated land use planning and development in rural and urban areas in support of one another.
The need to integrate land use planning and development with land transport planning. (where the relevant planning authority is a municipality, the transport plan must form
the transport component of the municipality’s integrated development plan (IDP))
The need to ensure integration within land transport planning, including the integration of the transport related plans required in terms of the NLTTA, namely the: National Land Transport
Strategic Framework; Provincial Land Transport Framework; Current public transport records; Public Transport Plans and Integrated Transport Plans.
The need to ensure the integration of the different modes of land transport.
The need to encourage and promote public participation (including participation by vulnerable and disadvantaged persons, including women and youth) in policy-making, land use planning,
transport planning and environmental governance.
The need to take into account the interests, needs and values of all interested and affected parties (this includes recognizing all forms of knowledge, including traditional & ordinary
The need to inform the public and respond to (basic) public needs.
The need to encourage, and create conditions for, the involvement of the local community in local governance matters.
The need to ensure that local authorities have consulted with the local community regarding municipal services to be provided.
Does the project identification and planning process take into account: Reference
The need to “…heal the divisions of the past…“ and “… improve the quality of life of all citizens”. Constitution preamble
The need to uphold the right to an environment that is not harmful to health and well-being. Constitutions 24(a)
The need to promote justifiable economic and social development while securing ecologically sustainable development and use of natural
Constitution s 24(b)(iii)
The need to ensure socially, environmentally and economically sustainable development NEMA s 2(3)
The need, at local government level, to promote a safe and healthy environment. Constitution s 152(1)(d) & LGMSA s 4(2)(i)
The need, at local government level, to promote social and economic development. Constitution s 152(1)(c) & s 153(a)
Part 3: Checklist for sustainable lives
Geographical area of check?
Impact Group to be checked? Gender:(Male/ female) Income: (High/middle/low) Age: (Child/adult/elderly) Other: (Eg able/ disabled)
(which are the natural stocks (soil, water and air etc) and the environmental services (hydrological, nutrient cycle) from which resources useful for ‘livelihoods’ are derived)
Does the proposed intervention have the potential to:
For example, through.
Promote or impact on the biophysical quality and natural resources of the
Reduction/improvement in local air quality eg through changes in CO, NOx, particulates, smog, odours, HC/VOC, lead and
Reduction/improvement in regional and global air quality eg through changes in CO2, SO2 and ozone
Induced traffic, which in turn could overall increase levels of air pollutants?
Mode shift to public transport or non-motorized modes, which could lead to overall reductions in pollutants?
Reduction/improvement in noise levels
Reduction/improvement of aesthetic and landscape values eg where a transport route passes through an area of natural
Reduction/increase in the consumption of fossil fuels
Impact on flora and fauna
Impact on water quality and supply (surface and groundwater)
Impact on high potential agricultural land
(which are the social resources on which people draw in their lives: for example relationships and membership of social networks)
Does the proposed intervention have the potential to:
For example by:
Promote or weaken community structures? Promoting access or increasing severance between community members, groups and facilities
Promote or reduce interaction between social groups? Promoting or reducing access for local political gatherings, support groups, religious activity etc
Reduce or promote the vulnerability of vulnerable groups? Reducing or promoting access and safety for women, children, elderly and the disabled
Promote or reduce knowledge in the community? Promoting or reducing access to libraries, schools and other educational facilities
Promote or reduce kinship and cultural ties? Promoting or reducing access to family and friends
Reduce or create social problems? Promoting or reducing access and exposure to alcohol, drugs, crime and disease
Promote or reduce the power of individuals or groups? Promoting or reducing access to physical, financial and human resources
Increase or reduce personal fear? Promoting or reducing access and safety and opportunities for crime related activities
(which are the skills, knowledge, ability to work, and good health, which enable people to pursue life differently)
Does the proposed intervention have the potential to:
For example by:
Reduce or increase the loss of life? Reducing or increasing the potential for fatal accidents
Reduce or increase disabilities? Reducing or increasing the potential for serious accidents
Reduce or improve health levels? Reducing or increasing access to health facilities such as parks, sports fields, public open spaces, gyms and cycling paths
Improving or reducing air quality in the area
Promote or reduce the level and standard of education? Promote or reduce access to education opportunities such as schools, colleges, universities, crèches and libraries
Promote or reduce food security? Promote or reduce access to markets, finance and land
(for example, savings, credit, remittances, and pensions)
Does the proposed intervention have the potential to:
For example by:
Promote or reduce economic development and diversification? Promoting or reducing access to existing markets and opportunities for investment and the establishment of new markets
Promote or reduce productivity? Reducing or increasing transport costs, travel times, vehicle maintenance and operating costs
Promote or reduce financial independence? Promoting or reducing transportation costs and access to and the provision of markets and credit and savings facilities
Promote or reduce employment opportunities? Promoting or reducing access to the job market, education and training
Promote or reduce job creation? Promoting or reducing opportunities for labour-based construction and other project related jobs during the construction
and operation phase
Promote or reduce the ability to trade informally? Promoting or reducing availability and access to land for informal traders and access to informal markets by consumers
(the basic infrastructure: transport, shelter, energy, communications and production resources)
Does the proposed intervention have the potential to:
For example by:
Promote or reduce access to schools, hospitals etc? Promoting or reducing access to schools, hospitals etc
Promote or reduce access to water supplies? Improving or reducing access to or the provision of water supplies
Promote or reduce access to energy? Improving or reducing access to or the provision of energy sources, such as electricity, firewood, paraffin, gas and batteries
Promote or reduce access to waste collection services? Improving or reducing access to or the provision of waste collection services
Promote or reduce access to sanitary services? Improve or reduce access to or the provision of sanitary service
Promote or reduce communications? Improving or reducing access to public telephones, post offices, radio, television and news papers
Impact on land ownership and tenure? Changing landownership and tenure rights by expropriating land
Impact on rights-of-way? Cutting or disrupting existing access routes and rights of way
(that is, the time available for discretionary activity)
Does the proposed intervention have the potential to:
For example by:
Increase or reduce the free, non-work time available for individuals? Reducing or increasing the travel time to work
Increase or reduce the free, non-work time available for families? Reducing or increasing the travel time to work for parents and education facilities for children
Increase or reduce the free, non-work time available for communities? Reducing or increasing the travel time to community facilities, shops, and other basic physical needs such as energy, food
Promote or reduce child independence on parents and elders. (This, in
turn, contributes to changes in time resources available to parents and
Promoting or reducing access to public transport and walking/ cycle routes to school etc.
Promote or impact on other resources?