The department of energy’s recent fuel hike of 71c/litre for petrol and the wholesale diesel price 57-60c/litre, less than three weeks before the end of the year, has consumers considering alternative personal transport options for 2018.
“Most South Africans have become caught in a rut, taking the same route to work and back every weekday, using the same mode of transport” advises AutoTrader CEO George Mienie. “There’s more choice and variety than many of us realise” Mienie advises. With New Year budget planning underway in a bid to tackle the fuel hikes and rising cost of transport, it’s a great chance to revisit our commuting choices.
If you travel less than 50km to work each day, it will be cheaper to use a ride hailing service like Uber than to drive your own car.
Executive rail, like Gautrain is only slightly more expensive than using a mini-bus.
The most expensive form of transport is metered taxis. Unregulated pricing makes using the service a gamble.
Approximate cost to move, Rands per kilometre travelled
R0.17 Passenger Rail
R0.80 City Bus (depending on use)
R1.40 Minibus Taxi
R1.82 Executive Rail (Gautrain)
R7.35 Ride hailing (Uber)
R7.60 Personal Car
R10.40 Metered Taxi’s
If we consider the cost of transport in terms of rands per kilometre travelled, urban rail is hard to beat. At R14.50, a Gauteng Metrorail return ticket valid for 20 - 30km each way would enable you to travel 60 km daily at less than 25 cents per kilometre. And the longer your commute, the cheaper the per km rate. You could buy a return train ticket valid for up to 50 km each way, and travel 100 km daily at under 17 cents per km.
However, South African cities are often sprawling and congested, making integrated public transport hard to achieve. Many of us rely on multiple modes of transport each day. That could mean a bus or a taxi to a train station or an Uber to the Gautrain.
Buses are generally used for moderate inner city distances. Let’s assume a round trip of 25km from home to work and back. In the City of Tshwane, your daily commute would work out to about R16 per day. Compared to rail, that’s a higher per km cost, but for a much for precise route. A bus should place you within a few blocks of your office, not tens of kilometres.
Gautrain stations are strategically located, with an integrated bus fleet. Gautrain rail commuters are able to take a bus at a reduced fare of R8 per journey during peak times. At R23 one way from Park Station in the Johannesburg CBD to Sandton, a return journey including two bus rides comes to R62. At a distance of about 17 km each way, that comes out out around R1.82 per km.
The Gautrain is great because you can catch up on your reading and reply to emails. But if you need a private space to make calls and pile your papers around undisturbed during your commute, you need a car and driver.
Two popular ride hailing services covering the same route were compared - Park Station to the Sandton Gautrain station - at rush hour on a weekday morning. The cost averaged to about R125 one way. Assuming the same 17 km distance, that’s a per km cost of around R7.35.
They’re fast, plentiful and they fill a much-needed public transport gap, so it’s no wonder that so many South Africans rely on minibus taxis as a primary form of transport. At around R11 for a journey from Alexandra to Sandton, minibus taxis also offer good value. At at a distance of about 7.5 km, that’s around R1.40 per km for a service with the precision of a good bus route, without the waiting time. On the downside, minibus taxis tend to be crowded and there is inadequate enforcement of driver or vehicle safety standards.
Ride hailing services such as Uber have profoundly disrupted the taxi market. Push-button services are incredibly convenient, but they also tend to be cheaper than traditional metered taxis.
That presents a challenge to older cab services, but also an opportunity. After all, Uber has created a new demand for daily cab services for a segment that previously only used taxis in rare instances, such as occasional trips to the airport.
To compete, older taxi services will need to offer competitive pricing.
Perhaps the most surprising feature of metered taxis is the pricing variation between providers. One comparison looked a number of defined routes in Johannesburg, including Sandton City to Park Station. The cost of an Uber was in line with our finding, but the prices from competing taxi services ranged from R175 to over R250.
The lesson seems to be that if you prefer to use a metered taxi service, it pays to shop around and find the best rates. You may also be able to negotiate a preferable rate, particularly if you are a regular customer; something that is not permissible with ride hailing services.
The price of freedom – the car
Ride hailing and metered taxis avoid the hassles of having to take multiple, connecting forms of transport and wasted time waiting at platforms and bus stops. It’s no wonder that the car is still often considered king, even in rush hour traffic.
To understand the costs of owning a car, we need to appreciate that in most cases a car is not an investment. A vintage Ferrari may appreciate with age, but most cars are worth less as they get older and put more kilometres on the clock.
The African mobility revolution needs smarter integrated public transport solutions. But it also should mean freedom to choose transport that offers value to match our lifestyles.
What’s the most affordable way to get from A to B? It depends. For commuters prioritising cost-savings, mass public transit is hard to beat, especially if you live and work close to the departure and arrival stations.
Travellers for whom time literally is money can maximise their transport value by using ride-hailing apps, provided they travel moderate daily distances.
For suburban residents who need to travel longer distances into commercial hubs, without convenient access to a rail network, there is as yet no substitute for driving your own car and having to weather the regular fuel hikes.