How the current state of public transport impacts employment in South Africa

Unemployment is a persistent challenge that the South African labour market is facing. 

The unemployment rate in 2020 has reached an all-time high when compared to the fourth quarter of the previous year. According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) results published on Stats South Africa, unemployment jumped from 29.1 percent to 30.1 percent in the first quarter of this year. The report also indicates that young people between the ages of 15 to 34 are the most affected. 

Amongst the many contributing factors that influence the youth unemployment rate in South Africa is access to adequate local transportation infrastructure. In this case, adequate public transportation infrastructure refers to roads, bus stations, railway stations, and terminals which are working efficiently. 

The reality is that transport and poverty in South Africa are linked as many rely heavily on public transportation to get to work and to seek employment. However, the challenges make it harder for citizens to get jobs, which expands the unemployment gap.

Public transport challenges

There are many problems with public transport in the country, and some are a direct result of spatial planning which was implemented before South Africa became a democratic country. This means that people live far from the cities, where most job opportunities are obtainable. 

In addition, the available modes of transportation; buses, trains, and taxis are not affordable to the majority of South African citizens who are living in poverty. And, these modes of transport are ill-maintained, unreliable, overcrowded and unsafe. 

Another greater challenge is the lack of transportation in rural areas. It indicates inequality in the provision of transportation infrastructure between urban and rural areas. These challenges have an impact on the economic success for all South Africans and, in turn, the economy of the country. They also raise an urgent need for growth and development of transport infrastructure. 

The role of transportation in economic development

Economic growth depends on activity in the labour market. When the activity is stagnant or deteriorating, it hurts the economy. That’s why sustainable infrastructure is one of the key solutions to job creation. Investing in green transport systems, which are accessible and affordable to the vast majority of the population, will give work-seekers access to opportunities. 

The more people gain access to opportunities, the more likely they are to get a job and contribute to the economy. That’s why public and private sectors need to work as a collective to ensure that communities are equipped with the right infrastructure to stimulate economic activity.

How DBSA contributes to transportation infrastructure

As the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), we understand the importance of public transport, not only its role in the economy but also how integrated transit networks have a positive impact in previously disadvantaged communities. 

One of our primary mandates is to procure funds which are distributed to the development of infrastructure projects in the transportation sector. Through our portfolio of lending operations as well as project implementation and programme management support activities, we are able to contribute to transportation systems which are inclusive and sustainable in nature. The reality is, it’s not enough to simply have the funds, we need to consider project bankability to ensure that all projects move beyond planning phases and enter implementation stages.

Final thoughts

The inability to find a job is often linked to personal shortcomings such as the lack of education and skills. And, while that may be true in some cases, transportation plays a huge role in unemployment. 

The majority of South Africans are poor and live far from cities where job opportunities are accessible. Investing in affordable and sustainable transportation systems addresses the inefficiencies and deteriorating rates in the labour market. 

In the end, the positive effects of transportation contribute to social inclusion, the well-being of citizens and job creation as well as the country’s economic development and growth.