South Africa’s Key Urban Transport Challenges

  • Tracey McKayEmail author
Part of the GeoJournal Library book series (GEJL)


With over 65% of the South African population now urbanised, the country needs to tackle its urban transport problems head on if economic growth and social cohesion are to be fostered. However, historical urban planning decisions undermine the ability of South Africa’s urban areas to have a sustainable transport system. The long term impact of historic policies of spatial segregation, alongside urban planning decisions that primarily served the interests of local level politicians and private property developers, has created a massive urban sprawl problem. Currently South Africans spend a large proportion of their income on transport, creating a state of transport poverty where some cannot afford transport, or must divert income from other necessities in order to be mobile. Much of this is due to the paucity of adequate public transportation in the form of trains and buses. Consequently, most urbanites rely on private motor vehicles or mini-bus taxis to meet their transport needs. As a result, urban areas suffer from significant traffic congestion and the air pollution associated with it. This transport crisis is primarily the result of poor transport policies and planning, alongside historically weak urban planning decisions, and former policies of spatial segregation by race. For example, South Africa uses predict-and-provide transport planning models to drive urban transport provisions, but this reinforces trends towards private road transportation and undermines rail and bus provision. Even more recent decisions such the establishment of the Bus Rapid Transit network, the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project and the Gautrain have done little (if anything) to solve this. As such, South Africa’s urban areas lack the density and connectivity to support an effective public transportation system. This also fundamentally undermines the ability of residents to lower their transport costs by embarking on an active commute.


Urban sprawl Transport poverty Long commutes Single land use planning Public transport Active commuting 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of South AfricaPretoriaSouth Africa

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