The idea of the EcoMobility World Festival was an experiment to ease pressure on the hard pressed roads of African cities. So, traffic police bearing fences moved in to seal Sandton, the business district and home to Africa’s largest financial institutions, where 75,000 cars arrive every day. The idea was to keep most of the cars out and push public transport.
This hasn’t gone down well with many motorists, who struggle to find an alternative.
“This is the biggest load of crap,” shouted a lady as she drove by Sandton’s main artery, West Street, which has been reduced to one lane.
“It’s just not practical. All big businesses are in Sandton and I’ve got to go company to company. I’ve just left Merrill Lynch now and I have to be in Randburg in 20 minutes, which wouldn’t be a problem. Now I just might need to cancel because of this,” says Sharoma Mahal, a consultant working in Sandton.
“It’s our first visit to Sandton during the EcoMobility Festival so far and we’ve come by Gautrain instead of by vehicle for a meeting. There aren’t too many disruptions so far, just that we have to walk 400 meters,” says a passing businessman.
“It hasn’t been too much of a change, traffic has picked up in areas like Midrand but it hasn’t been a huge change,” says Geoffrey Sugden, who works in Sandton.
Business too felt the pinch, as many customers ended up on the other side of the fence. Petrol station owner, Shane Singh, says he has lost money and is considering cutting jobs.
“It’s a real challenge because we need the vehicles. People need to use their vehicles so we can put petrol in them. If that’s not happening then our business really suffers. If you look at my forecourt, I’ve got one car with like four petrol attendants,” says Singh.
The Mayor of Johannesburg, Parks Tau, is behind the idea and thinks it is the future.
“We’ve built relationships with corporates. The role that corporates are going to play relates to, amongst others, introducing incentives for people to use different modes of transport,” says Tau.
True to the entrepreneurial spirit, whenever there’s a hurdle to overcome, you will find an entrepreneur. In the midst of the festival and its challenges, a business has mushroomed near the Gautrain station in Sandton.
Santa Scheepers hired out motorcycles for short trips around Sandton.
“A shared use system is important, especially having alternative transport which will be eco-friendly as well. That is the motivation behind the electric motorcycles, that and making money of course,” chuckles Scheepers.
If the EcoMobility concept works, it could become permanent in Africa’s golden square mile and maybe spread across the continent. Watch out for fences first thing in the morning.