Serving no-one

The lights are on but nobody's home

The lights are on but nobody's riding

Today the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transport System and the Gautrain feeder bus system are letting Joburgers ride for free to “celebrate and mark Car Free Day”.  How splendid of them.

According to the ‘Government Communication and Information System’ on BUA News, a state mouth-piece,

“Car Free Day is aimed at encouraging motorists to leave their cars and create awareness on the benefits of public transport. Travelling on public transport modes such as the Gautrain is not only a key solution in reducing carbon emissions, but also in easing traffic congestion.”

Any Joburger will know the Gautrain busses that zoot around the northern suburbs.  They’re conspicuous in their emptiness.  Seriously, I drive around JHB a lot and haven’t seen a single solitary person sitting on the cool, plush seats in one of those busses.  So obviously this is a desperate attempt to get bums on seats by incentivising travel with free rides.

Aside from the absurdity of “Car Free Day”, and creating “awareness on the benefits of public transport”, and finding a “key solution in reducing carbon emissions”, there is a broader and more important issue at play:  Why are we trying to force a square peg into a round hole?

There is a very good reason why no-one rides on the Gaubus…because no-one wants to.  It doesn’t serve anyone, clearly.  Instead of realising that the service offers no value to society, the municipality will try at first to encourage people to use it by having ‘ride free’ days.  When that doesn’t work they’ll start trying to force you to use it by taxing vehicles, clamping down on car travel in certain areas, and forcing taxpayers to fully subsidise the busses permanently so that ‘ride free’ days become permanent ‘ride free’ transport systems.  Sounds grand huh?  Alas, we all pay in the end anyway.

They’ll try everything but admit that the service is not required.  That is classic government – conjure up a service and then manipulate the laws and incentives and tax and fund structures until eventually the people have little choice but to use it.

In the free market for transport these problems do not exist.  You don’t get the minibus taxis offering ‘ride free’ days because they don’t need to get bums on seats.  They’re packed to the rafters and fully and adequately supply the transport needs of millions all day every day without a fuss.

Gaubusses are empty because there is no need for them.  Maybe we’ll need them in the future, but not now.  They are subsidised black holes on wheels.  Us Joburgers don’t mind paying for quality service, but with Gaubus we’re burning away wealth with every tire tread and gallon of fuel.  We’re paying drivers to drive no-one, maintaining busses that transport no-one, and using fuel we don’t need.

When you truly break it down, the stark reality is that government serves no-one… and there’s no such thing as a free ride.

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