The Economics of Transport

It is almost halfway through the month of August and what has probably been the biggest logistical illumination so far is how expensive it is to get from Point A to Point B. Our shack rental for the month is R170 and by the end of today, our transport costs will have amounted to R432 already. These proportions are crazily out of alignment and I shudder to think what this equation looks like if you are a temporary worker in Sandton and live in Orange Farm or Soshanguve.

What sticks in the back of my mind is a recent quote by Professor Karan, a National Planning Commissioner, who said “What makes society most unstable is the cost of living.” It nags me then that taxi prices will rise in a week or two to mirror the increased petrol price and add burden to us and many other people trying to balance the budget.

Imagine then that you are a Mamelodi resident with 3 children and qualify for a child support grant of R290 per child. Lets looks at two scenarios. In the first scenario, you stay at home with your children and have no income other than the child grants. There are no transport costs as you do not work. Your household income is R290x3 = R870 for the month.

In the second scenario, you have a job paying R2900 per month (the threshold to qualify for a child support grant is a salary of R2800 or lower). Now you need to pay R200 per child per month to put them in creche for the day and lets assume that your taxi costs are 40% of your income (R1160). At the end of the month you are left with R2900-R1160-R600=R1140. Given the long hours and time away from your children, there is no a huge incentive to get a job in the first place (if you can even find one in the first place which is a whole new question) if you are only R270 better off because of it.

Of all the public transport I have caught over the last week (Putco bus, Metrorail, Taxi, Gautrain), by far the most efficient have been taxis. But they are also the only transport not subsidised by the Government (My R43 Gautrain ticket last week should cost the equivalent of R129 if it were not govt funds).

Wouldn’t it be great if the government could subsidise 50% of the taxi fare (fuel subsidy) in exchange for undertaking an annual roadworthy check, implementing a smart chip payment system (collect more taxes?) and allowing cycling lanes to be built along key township to work nodes.

If you were earning R2900, you would now be left with R1720 after taxi fares – practically double what you would have received if you just stayed at home. This seems like much better economic incentivisation to start unraveling the apartheid-era, remote township planning that still defines the livelihoods of vast swathes of the populace.


  1. Detlev says:

    Hi Julian, your “Economics of Transport” is a very enlightening report. Thanks for that. It gives a graphic picture under what kind of stress – economically and time wise – hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in South Africa are every day – just to get from home to work and back. And it should also offers a better insight to those compatriots who like to make cynical remarks about “lazy, late coming” workers.

  2. Amasi says:

    Hi Julian
    I applaud you on your “expiriment” and can assure you that your life will be vastly changed.
    I wonder if you are using parafin stove to cook whatever was not cooked by the solar, as that is what most people in that community use. Or alternatively you use coal stove. Those were means used by my family when we were still living in a shack.

    I liked your comment on that taxis are the most efficient, I wished you could have elaborated more on how efficient are they compared to other modes. Of course I know the answer as I had used different moders of transport for years. BTW I have been on my own car for many years.

    While at taxis, how has been your feeling/impression of taxi as a passenger? Considering beliefs that most are not well mantained and taxi drivers drive like maniacs.

    Other than those nyaope guys, what has been your impression of crime in the area compared to the gated communities and other surbubs you know? I know in the shacks everyone is in everyones businness, how that communal/ neighbourly life affect everything?

    You can answer these question now or on your summary/ reflection of what has life been like.

    • Mamelodi for a Month says:

      Hi Amasi. Thanks for your support and interest. Here are some early impressions to share with you.

      We still use a primus a lot especially to heat water up. The solar cooker is really useful in that we put it on our roof in the morning and it cooks our lunch or supper if we are out for the day. It works really well for stews, vegetables and rice. Not so sure about cooking pap (which needs lots of stirring) or frying meat (it is like a slow cooker with the temperature only reaching 120 degrees). The other benefit is because of the lower temperature, your food can never burn. The shack next to ours was burnt down by a paraffin fire, the fumes from using a primus are not great and it is quite expensive so it is definitely not an ideal fuel source.

      We have not used taxis enough to have a really informed opinion, but I really like how efficient they can be. They taxis are much more widespread that buses or trains. They are smaller can leave much more frequently than a bus or train and they can also stop anywhere unlike other public transport that needs to stop at designated areas / stations. Best of all, they are a private sector solution to transport which means a more market related approach to their value proposition.

      I have been lucky in not having to wait in long queues and it can be tough catching a taxi on smaller routes at midday when there is not much commuter traffic. We have had our maniac taxi drivers and we have also had great drivers. We have also been on very unroadworthy taxis and also spacious, clean and brand new ones. I am a bit more philosophical about taxi driver’s bad traffic manners. Firstly, the system of shuttling as many people to and from point A to B actually does a part in incentivising bad driving. If my livelihood depended on the number of passengers I can transport in the shortest possible time, it is easier to understand why the rules get bent especially as the are not strictly enforced. Also, our roads should be better geared for supporting taxis ie special taxi lanes because they provide a valuable social service.

      Luckily we have not felt at all threatened by crime yet, but our community are very cautious about walking around early in the morning or in the evening due to the nyaope guys. We do get the impression that they are also much more vulnerable and exposed to crime than we would be in our PTA East home

  3. Tumi says:

    nail biting piece of analysis Julian considering the impending E-Toll meaning this new government of ours is entrenching the legacies its claiming to address and thus deepening the marginalisations of those they sought mostly votes from

  4. Amasi says:

    Talking of E-Toll, you remember that initially the taxis were going to be exempted from paying E-Toll and many people complained on why exemption. Giving different “good reasons” like taxis abuses the roadrules, government is afraid of them, they dont pay taxes and others.

  5. Mpho Makena says:


    Thanks for this piece on economics,this is insightfull for employers to realise that the this low paying wages arent sustainable. A lot of people compromise just for the will to get up every morning and go to work and not face the day to day activities of just idling on the streets. I commend for sending this message

  6. Jackson says:

    Interesting stuff! I was born and raised in a village in another African country, outside SA. I’ve never lived in a shack before. It’s interesting to see the differences and similarities between my early life and that of people who live in shacks in SA.
    We had several fruit trees, a vegetable garden and livestock. So most of what we ate we grew, raised, or our neighbour/neighbour’s neighbour grew/raised. So if we wanted chicken and our neighbour raised them, we could trade our coffee beans and fruits for that. We really only spent money on my school items and transport (although I woke up bright n early then walked for at least 10km to get transport to school). Money is definitely way more important in SA townships than in many African villages where its easy to plant your own foods or have chicken, goats, sheep, etc.
    Although we had electricity (with so many blackouts that Eskom would be jealous of)), we cooked with wood that we got from chopping down tree branches. I remember how excited I was when grandma brought home a fridge. I think it was powered with car batteries because electricity could be gone for weeks on end. Lmao.

    I’ve been to Tembisa, Alexandra and several other townships but not yet Mamelodi. Thanks for enlightening me, and for someone who didn’t grow up in those conditions/situations you’re doing well.

  7. Sekana Mankge says:

    Hi, Jullian

    Thought provoking analysis, indeed! I applaud you for embarking on this project to get an understanding of the struggles of the people at the bottom-end of economic chain. Good luck!

  8. Charlie says:

    Hi Julian,
    It is a huge problem that so much money goes just to transport costs and you are taking huge risks life wise using the Taxis, busses, trains…a proper cycle lane would make a huge difference to allot of people and I am sure there would start to be a cycle culture and then that money saved by cycling you could use to feed yourself, so I like the idea of the Govt subsidy towards the Taxis and then they have to abide by road rules etc…it really would help allot of people stuck in the poverty trap having not to spend so much on transport.

  9. mandisa says:

    Yhoo but the taxi industry is so crudely and barbarically run to be honest. I shudder to think how even worse things would get if they were subsidised. I am a taxi user and I hate taxis. the horrible treatment, faulty cars, bad driving….

  10. mohammed dinath says:

    i would suggest to gov to make (metro rail)train transport free between 9am and 3pm when the metro trains are running empty for pensioners unemployed or people who are out looking for a job.this i have seen operation in angola and is a success

  11. Jane says:

    Insightful! Thanks for mentioning cycling lanes,


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