Over the past year, there have been plenty of opportunities for us – as a nation – to shake our heads in disbelief when we see the latest offering from our respective government officials.  While there have been notable success stories that we can celebrate, we have compiled a few of the big disasters of the year. 

Taking its E-Toll on our Economy

Arguably, one of the biggest fails that came from our government, has been hanging around since the end of 2013. You’ve seen the purple glow from the most expensive failure that this country has ever seen, littered across our highways. Chances are, you have a ridiculously high invoice from them, sitting in your kitchen drawer to show your friends when they pop in. But, just how big a disaster are we looking at with e-tolls?  To begin with, it is such a catastrophe, it has been unable to cover its own operating costs. 

Over the past year, there have been plenty of opportunities for us – as a nation – to shake our heads in disbelief when we see the latest offering from our respective government officials.  While there have been notable success stories that we can celebrate, we have compiled a few of the big disasters of the year. 

After yet another governmental bail-out from deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, it was decided that while Sanral (the South African National Roads Agency Limited, the government parastatal responsible for e-tolls) would furnish up to 60% discount on e-toll bills, leniency on those whose default would stop.  Although stern warnings and the threat of legal action looms over the heads of every single road user in Gauteng who hasn’t registered for e-tolls, the e-toll debacle is still running at an impressive loss of over R35-million for this year alone. 

Since the inception of e-tolls, our government has pumped over R12.5-billion into a scheme that is very obviously failing.  The question on everyone’s lips now is whether or not 2016 will see more money that should be spent on our roads, being spent on keeping e-tolls alive.

Grounded by Red Tape

Speaking of travelling and how the government is hindering that, the latest in visa requirements has left a bad taste in the mouths of our dwindling tourism industry.  As of June this year, it became a requirement that minors need to have an unabridged birth certificate in order to travel freely in and out of South Africa.  The reasoning behind the latest visa disaster might appear to be admirable, but it isn’t doing our tourism industry any favours.   

The unique reason for having the unabridged birth certificate requirement is to eradicate the human trafficking problem that plagues the world. However, as gallant as stamping out this global problem may be, it makes for a substantial dip in economic growth in the tourism industry. South Africa, as a whole, does not have the luxury of a thriving business sector that can carry a cut in tourism.  While the human trafficking epidemic is not one to be scoffed at, surely there are processes that can be implemented for smooth sailing when families just want a holiday together? Not all travellers with children are going to be human traffickers.

So, it would seem as though the government is unplugging our largest, current income generator, without giving much thought into how to supplement the economic loss.  Although government seems adamant that this procedure will stay, little is known on how this new procedure will actually work.  Perhaps after the tourism department takes a Christmas bonus cut this year, they will reconsider the effectiveness of this regulation.

R600-Million worth of Metal

It is becoming clear that to the government any form of travel is bad for business.  Another indiscretion that has been strewn across headlines for 2015, is the R600-million that was spent on rail agency Prasa’s Afro 4000 Trains: These trains  are not permitted to travel along most of the major long-distance rail routes across the country because they require such a high kV range to operate adequately.  Although all is not lost for Prasa, and there are still a few routes that their investment will be used on, the majority of the Transnet’s rail system isn’t Afro 4000 compatible. These trains are only permitted to travel along the 25kV of network that runs through the country, as well as the non-electrified lines.  Which wouldn’t be too problematic if the majority of the rail lines that connected our country wasn’t an overhead 3kV line. 

What does this mean for Prasa?  Their impulse buy is now costing them a lot extra, just so that they are able to supply the service their Afro 4000’s trains were bought for.  According to Transnet Freight Rail, Prasa trains can continue to run along these routes, providing they replace their locomotives with those capable of running on the 3kV line.

However, this was met with the latest revelation that the Afro 4000 diesel locomotive was meant for short-distance travel, rather than long-haul passenger services it originally claimed to be designed for.  This is especially the case now that the company realises just how much more that will cost them in the long run, a decision that was made shortly after Prasa’s chief executive officer Lucky Montana, was given the boot. 

Bridge over Troubled Water

The latest in an impressive list of fails for 2015, is one that should not be taken lightly.  The catastrophe that was the collapsing of the structure bridge that ran along the M1 North highway in Johannesburg, was felt throughout the country.  The disaster in October not only saw 20 people injured when their vehicles were crushed as they passed under Sandton’s Grayston Drive, but it also saw two lives lost.  While this on its own makes for a terrible news day, it also left a lot of unanswered questions from the engineering and construction industrialist responsible for the building of the bridge, Murray & Roberts, a company which has a long track record.

The press release and statements from the company have been exceptionally vague, with no real explanation given to what actually happened.  Although the families of those affected have been remunerated for their traumatic experience, it could be seen as little more than hush money.  Murray & Roberts’s spokesperson, Ed Jardim, has confirmed that there is an ongoing investigation into the incident.  

This inquiry is just another added to the legion of investigations initiated by the department of labour, which accompanies that of the City of Johannesburg, the South African Police Service and a troupe of other parties who all want answers.  The kind of answers that Murray & Roberts have warned against speculating over.

Volkswagen’s Fall from Grace

The final nail in the coffin of what appears to be a disaster year for transportation, has to be the Volkswagen emissions scandal.  A bit of fresh air is that the South African government isn’t actively involved in this debacle.  But we wanted to delve into this impressive fiasco anyway, because our fragile eco system was jeopardised for profit..

VW’s timeline is a sad read:

2007:  Suspect software is first made available to VW by auto parts supplier, Bosch.  This software had been initially released for internal testing only by Bosch.  In this year, Martin Winterkorn is appointed as chief executive officer of VW.

2011:  All seems smooth sailing for VW until an employee discovers the software might not meet the legislation code.  Although this employee  sounds the alarm, VW goes ahead and installs the software, anyway, into their vehicles.

2014:  The University of West Virginia is appointed by the International Council on Clean Transportation to conduct tests on VW, the results of which suggest VW cars emit up to 40 times the legal permissible limit of nitrogen oxide. When asked for comment, VW argues that road performance and the tests conducted by the university would result in varied findings.  However, the motor giant goes on to recall a number of models for software updates.

May 2015: Unsatisfied with the findings, United States authorities undertake a new series of tests on VW vehicles.  The results are once again contradictory to what VW is claiming, which leads to a series of “technical meetings” called between the automotive giant and authorities.

July 2015: The German government finally responds to a question from environmentalist Green Party regarding the faulty software. They then confirms their knowledge of the technology that could alter the results collected from emission tests.  But, still VW denies having any information on whether this technology is actually in use.

September 2015:  VW finally admits that it deliberately installed the conflicting software. This confession comes after the motor giant proves itself unable to come up with anything convincing. Then to add insult to injury, just as VW releases its new “eco-friendly” models, Carb (Californian Air Resources Board) and EPA (the US Environmental Protection Agency) go public with their findings. According to the US authorities, over 480 000 VW vehicles were fitted with the conflicting software.

On September 20, Winterkorn issues a statement apologising for “having broken the trust of the public and our consumers”.  He then vows that VW will do everything necessary to re-establish that broken trust. 

All this is too little, too late as VW’s shares plummet on the stock market and see a staggering loss of €15-Billion.  The German government orders the immediate testing on the vehicles, which leads the South Korean government to follow suit.

Accepting responsibility of this disaster as VW’s CEO, Winterkorn resigns, but still insists on being unaware of any wrongdoing.  Matthias Müeller, head of luxury brand Porsche, is then named Winterkorn’s successor. Will he be able to shed light on the sordid affair, as VW clearly hopes?

What’s on the Cards for 2016?

If anything is certain of this year in review, it is that transport has seen its fair share of blunders.  Which leads the question, which infrastructure will feel the pinch in 2016?