Almost every political leader with any kind of following has pronounced on the extent of our ‘World Cup legacy’. The most usual examples given are tangible ones – the bricks and mortar infrastructure upgrades to roads, airports, stadia and hospitality providers. Highest on the list of intangibles is the marketing effect of having the world’s attention on South Africa. So far so good.
The most unexpected – well, certainly least well-documented – effect may turn out to be the shift in attitudes amongst South Africans towards public transport. For those who can afford it, private transport is the default option, and for good reason. However, it’s just not practical to provide parking for 60 000 spectators, and in any case, the thousands of foreign supporters need to be provided with public transport.
Consequently, thousands of South Africans who otherwise would have driven to matches have been using public transport. We caught the MyCiti bus into the city centre on Friday night, as the South Africa vs Mexico game was about to kick off. The experience was inexpensive and painless – once we boarded the bus, which is not something one can say for my attempts at researching the route and schedule online. The City of Cape Town is keen to get as many people using the service as possible, but they’ve done a pretty dismal marketing and communications job (Slingshot can help them out with this problem!).
Flush at the excitement of using public transport to assist in getting into the spirit of international sporting contests – not to mention avoiding traffic jams – we decided to use the train to get to Newlands for yesterday’s rugby match between South Africa and France. Cape Town station has recently been refurbished, which is all very nice. However, no-one’s bothered to put up signage to assist passengers in navigating their way to a ticketing counter.
We approached the most likely spot, where three Metrorail employees were occupying a glassed booth. One of them had pasted a piece of newspaper over the hole, in an apparent attempt to indicate that she was not currently available to serve anyone. The middle person was lolling in a chair (no need for a sign; his body language told us in no uncertain terms that he was taking a break). At the third position a women was hunched over piles of coins she was busy counting. It took a little while to explain that we wanted return tickets to Newlands. At this point I’d already given up attempting to buy kids’ tickets for the non-adults, and just asked for six return tickets. She responded by handing me four tickets. Thank you, but we need six tickets. She duly printed them out, but then had to get her lolling colleague to multiply R13 by six people on his cellphone to establish how much money I had to hand over.
No part of this experience implied any degree of efficiency, professionalism or reliability. The staff were untrained and under-resourced; there’s a lot more to running an effective public transport system than moving people from A to B and then back. Indeed, upon our return to Cape Town, the signs at Newlands station indicated the next train as 18.05. Except that a train was there at 17.48. We were very happy not to wait the additional 17 minutes, but we weren’t sure if it was a case of the earlier train running late, or the later train running early.
Our public transport corporations have a window of opportunity, during which they have the opportunity of winning over people who have traditionally used their own cars. Based upon my experiences over the past few days they’ve got a lot of work to do on some pretty basic stuff. Our World Cup legacy depends upon it.