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Over R1bn set aside for Gautrain Smart Mobility project

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The Gauteng Provincial Government plans to invest an estimated R1.1 billion towards the Gautrain Smart Mobility project, to respond to the evolving needs of the province’s “smart” passengers.

This was revealed yesterday by Tshepo Kgobe, COO of the Gautrain Management Agency, speaking at the Gautrain Smart Mobility virtual event, held in partnership with CNBC Africa in light of transport month.

The Gautrain – Africa’s first high-speed rail project − is undergoing a major augmentation process, as part of the Gauteng Provincial Government’s fourth industrial revolution-focused strategy to provide a smart, clean, safe and integrated public transport service with social, economic and environmental benefits to citizens.

The Gautrain is on a mission to go fully green and its sustainable urban mobility plan includes the rollout of buses that run on electric hydrogen or hybrid power, and the introduction of off-grid renewable energy initiatives throughout its stations.

The Gautrain Management Agency is also embarking on a plan to extend the Gauteng Rapid Rail Integrated Network project, to integrate the Gautrain operations with other modes of transport to connect commuters through intelligent technologies, while increasing employment opportunities in the province.

Kgobe explained that the Gautrain Management Agency’s mandate is to ensure it is sustainable as a mode of public transport and fulfils government’s economic objectives of integrating it with other transport services and facilitating radical social-economic growth.

“Smart mobility can be defined as an efficient and effective mobility system utilising appropriate technologies to create an economic system that catalyses the province’s economic growth.

“We have developed a strategy called ‘bringing Gauteng together through smart mobility’, which is premised on four key pillars to meet the requirements of commuters of the future, who have a high tech-adoption rate, demand convenience − including a variety of 24-hour transport options − and are increasingly becoming environmentally-conscious,” he pointed out.

With the increase in vehicles on local roads, Kgobe highlighted the need for world-class transport infrastructure, with Gauteng being a high priority area for government.

By 2037, Gauteng is expected to have an estimated 18.7 million people living in the province – an addition of four million citizens and double the number of vehicles on the province’s roads.

The Gautrain Smart Mobility Project comes as the Gautrain Management Agency prepares for the first phase of Gautrain 2 – which will extend its stations to other parts of the province, including Little Falls through Roodepoort, to Jabulani in northern Soweto.

The four key pillars of Gautrain’s digital transformation project, according to Kgobe, are:

  • Restructuring the urban landscape to ensure all forms of transport are inter-connected; eg, the Gautrain system seamlessly fitting into the Bus Rapid Transport system and the mini bus taxi services.
  • Developing a data-centric mobility platform – creating applications that will support an intelligent transport system that functions efficiently.
  • Enabling an environment that will benefit Gauteng as the country’s freight logistics hub. Almost 70% of goods shipped out of SA into the Southern African Development Community region go through Gauteng – therefore all plans must speak to the province’s infrastructural development.
  • Creating a capable workforce that underpins this strategy, and ensuring the utilisation of local tech talent to roll out this plan.

Upgrading existing infrastructure

As the plans unfold, the Gautrain’s IT systems will be based on a smart mobility centre, or a transport management centre, which will set the preparation for the application programming interface that will enable the centralising of data and required information, stated Kgobe.

“According to the blueprint that was created almost two years ago, in order for us to be able to develop smart apps, a transport management centre and an integrated ticketing system, this will all be valued at around R1.1 billion. The biggest challenge will be to upgrade a lot of our infrastructure, to create smart capabilities such as messaging services, sensors, laying the fibre that will inter-connect all the roads and create a backbone for telecommunication services – so we are essentially building everything from scratch,” noted Kgobe.

So far, the Gautrain has successfully piloted its smart ticketing project, which allows passengers to use both the Rea Vaya and A Re Yeng bus tickets for access to Gautrain rides, in addition to Mastercard or Visa bank cards, which can also be used.

Other technologies introduced by the Gautrain Management Agency over the last year include increasing the number of hi-tech CCTV cameras deployed across the Gautrain’s 10 stations to 1 000, the new version of the Gautrain mobile app and a restructured Web site, which allow for a variety of features, including enabling passengers to plan their trips and load funds, and the launch of LiveChat, a communication service that enables customers to chat with a member of the customer care team in real-time.

Gauteng on the Move, the mobile app that integrates all the different public transport services, including the Gautrain, Metrobus, A re Yeng, Rea Vaya, Metrorail and minibus taxi services, will be enhanced and relaunched in the new future, according to Kgobe.

While SA lags behind forerunner countries like Hong Kong in its smart mobility strategy, the country also has a window of opportunity to leapfrog other countries which are still in the middle of implementing their mobility digital transformation initiatives, due to minimal legacy issues, he continued.

“Part of our green mobility strategy is not only to introduce electric buses to achieve the zero emissions mobility, but to also ensure commuters with smart cars will be able to charge them at the Gautrain station. This means we will require a very strong telecommunications system, which will enable hyper-connectivity and inter-connectivity. From that point, we will democratise technology to create a new socio-economic context that focuses on poverty alleviation,” he concluded.

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