I recently had the occasion to spend some time working from a major city in Germany, and my apartment was some 20 minutes from the office I was using. That 20 minutes was measured in terms of time spent on public transport, for the purposes of my daily commute.
As for the transport medium, I could have used a bus, tram, an underground, or an overland train. In addition, had I taken along the appropriate clothing, I could also have easily commuted using a far-reaching network of shared bicycles and extensive bicycle lanes, which would have taken only about 40 minutes.
Upon arriving back in Hermanus and taking 20 minutes to drive from Fisherhaven to Fernkloof early one morning, it struck me that in the entire time that I had worked in any major city anywhere in Europe, I had never used a private motor vehicle for my daily commute. That got me thinking about the MyCiTi integrated rapid transit system operating in certain parts of the City of Cape Town and Go George running in George. When previously working in Cape Town, but living outside the city itself, I generally used public transport to get to and from my place of work.
Let your mind wander a bit and consider what it would be like to live in a town or city where you can go anywhere you want to, when you want to – and safely – without having to drive yourself. Think then of the topography of Hermanus in general: it is rather like a long ribbon with a magnificent mountain range on one side and the sea on the other. How difficult would it be to provide an efficient, regular, safe transport system that could replace all the private vehicles that seem to occupy every available parking space in the centre of Hermanus on a daily basis?
Allow me, at this time, to lay out my cards and state that I was previously involved in the provision of public transport solutions in South Africa, and the topic is thus very near and dear to my heart; it just seems to make so much sense. Even more relevant, is that in our midst in Hermanus is a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to the implementation of these solutions. I do not have permission to name anyone, so I will not mention any names, but they will know who I am talking about as they read this column!
By amplifying the current, limited public transport, how would the introduction of a regular and more all-embracing, public-transport solution affect Hermanus and the residential property market in general? Apart from the obvious health benefits associated with the use of improved non-motorised transport, all the literature associated with public transport indicates that homes closer to effective public transport routes increase in value, relative to those with less effective access to these routes.
Imagine being able to walk a short distance to a public transport stop or hub and being able to commute to wherever you want to be. Imagine all members of society being able to send their children to school on a public transport system that is safe, efficient and reliable. Imagine being able to visit your favourite restaurant and partaking of your favourite beverage, knowing that you could safely use public transport to return home thereafter.
The way in which towns and cities were developed in South Africa, prior to 1994, led to (in general) those who could least afford it having to travel the furthest distance to work. This, in turn, led to the development of the most significant provider of public transport in South Africa – the minibus taxi industry – albeit that this was a private initiative and not a government-led one. If our communities were able, in those times, to develop a solution that has worked to a great extent, imagine what we could do if everyone worked together towards a common cause for the common good.
In closing, what has always struck me as unique about public transport is how it treats all commuters the same. All people become as one when using public transport. When looking at a typical subway commuter in New York or London, one would not know whether you were looking at a chief executive or an intern because, for that brief period of time, they are merely commuters. Those moments of relative relaxation and introspection may be a necessary part of life that many South Africans do not experience on a daily basis. Perhaps the public-transport initiative is one which we, as residents and business owners in Hermanus, should be talking more about.
The views expressed above are those of the writer in his personal capacity and may not necessarily reflect the views of Fine & Country as a national and international brand.