The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- Ivo Vegter
- 08 Jun 2010 06:30 (South Africa)
"I find the #Gautrain hysteria a bit sad. Given a massive budget stolen from working people, I can build cool stuff too."
What an angry reaction that tweet provoked from the Twitterati who declared themselves "privileged" to receive an invite to "be a part of history" at the Gautrain media launch on Saturday. I've been told the privileged invitees on the train whined much about my negativity and cynicism. One committed union man even honoured me with the appellation "crabbit bastard".
While I am duly impressed with what appears to be a well-executed project to build a world-class rapid rail system, I couldn't help thinking of the airport transfer drivers I have met who expressed a real fear of losing their jobs. Acts of God they cannot avoid, but what did they do to deserve this Act of State?
Why should airport transfer companies, car hire firms and shared taxi services, which already compete with each other on the basis that each has to make a profit to justify their existence, have to compete with a taxpayer-funded service that will likely receive subsidies and bailouts whenever it runs into financial trouble?
"Are you a masochist?" asked one person when I said I might just choose taxis over the train. Well, my standards may be a little low, but being chauffeured door-to-door in the plush opulence of a new Mercedes doesn't strike me as a particularly painful way to travel. I've also used shared minibus taxis, and while they were certainly less comfortable, they were also very efficient for the price.
The last airport transfer driver I spoke with had some good conversation about the latest developments in Johannesburg, and noted perceptively that he knew many unemployed people who would love the jobs over which Gautrain workers were striking mere weeks before the project deadline.
On another occasion, I was driven around Johannesburg and Pretoria by a lady who waited at various locations for me to complete my business. I paid for that convenience; a rental car may have been cheaper. It would have been a right pain, however, to have been dependent on public transport.
So, am I a masochist? No, I'm not, and my reasons for preferring a private taxi go way beyond mere sympathy for a hard-working man or woman who earns an honest living without relying on government handouts.
Another economic question comes to mind. If a service is really so vital, why is a tax-funded monopoly required to deliver it? Are consumers not the final judge of what they prefer to purchase? Are producers not the final judge of what, given this preference, can be produced at a cost lower than the public's willingness to pay? The necessity to force people to pay for something by means of tax strongly suggests that the service in question is not economically justifiable, and the capital and labour would have been better employed elsewhere.
Think of the other government-funded or state-owned companies you know. Would you describe SAA, Transnet, Eskom, Telkom (in its day), or the SABC as shining examples of efficient and cost-effective delivery of essential services? Does the government's record give one confidence in the long-term performance of yet another government boondoggle?
Of course, this problem isn't limited to the South African government. Other countries have had exactly the same experience with grandiose public works projects.
The usual answer from government is that these projects create jobs. This sounds attractive as a political slogan, but the real challenge in any economy is to enable it to create productive jobs. Only when labour and capital are directed at profitable endeavour does aggregate prosperity rise.
This can only be done by the private sector. There is no competition in the public sector, no choice among monopoly providers, and no way for consumers to determine the marginal utility of the products and services created by different combinations of labour and capital. Worse, in the public sector there is little regard – as rising sovereign debt crises worldwide testify – for the long-term sustainability of the jobs created by government. They are, by definition, charity jobs that not only rely on confiscating profits from the private sector, but proceed to compete those very same private-sector employers out of business. How is this kind of "job creation" sustainable?
Principled opposition to public works aside, here are a few questions that appear not to have occurred to the effusive media, because all the excitement left little time for critical thought.
When road construction costs, on average, about R2 million per kilometre, will the R25 billion spent on 80km of Gautrain track be 156 times more efficient?
If it takes 15 minutes to get from the airport to Sandton, how long does it take to get from the airport to your hotel, home or office? Surely, this would involve some waiting, busing, walking and baggage-shlepping, at best?
What about those congestion charges mooted to force motorists to use a public transport option that they would ordinarily not prefer? On what grounds should motorists be punished for requiring transport along routes that differ from the Gautrain's feeder networks? And if motorists can only be persuaded to leave their vehicles by means of "punitive" charges (to adopt a term coined by Gautrain project manager Jack van der Merwe) what does that say about the real efficiency of the system?
How profitable are tickets? To what extent are they subsidised? When will the Gautrain project show positive cashflow? When will it pay for itself? How long will taxpayers have to fund it? What guarantees does Bombela, the lucky operating concessionaire, enjoy?
Why are there no trains between 20:30 and 5:30? Surely people who go out at night have a very good reason to prefer public transport? What about commuters who need to catch early-bird flights for business?
None of the social media reports – nor indeed any of the news articles in the formal media – even asked these questions, as far as I could see. Let alone getting answers. All were too busy gushing exuberantly about how cool the train was.
Granted, it appears there was no shortage of coolness at the Gautrain launch function. One of the social media invitees described the glitzy event as featuring "musician 'angels' suspended in the air" and "water fountains and plants throughout [which] created a tranquil forest feeling".
Asking hard questions would, presumably, have upset this tranquil feeling.
Another of the intrepid twits compared the Gautrain launch to "Proudest South African" moments such as Nelson Mandela's release from prison and the 1994 elections. Yet another spoke of having buried people who had prayed to be alive to see the Gautrain launch.
It's a train, for heaven's sake! A sense of perspective is not their strong suit either, evidently.
Another social media guest at the event said they were invited as VIPs because of the very hysteria I though tainted their coverage. Worse, they were required to tweet about the event. A journalist with some integrity wouldn't have dreamed of accepting an invitation under those conditions, for fear of being thought a shill. It must be nice for marketing departments to be able to turn to non-journalists who consider it a privilege to be wined and dined in return for parroting the public relations bumpf.
In defence of the Twitterati, however, they did spot a major oversight on the part of the Gautrain marketing team. They tweeted copiously to correct the atrocious spelling of "Shosalosa".
Thanks, folks. Nothing gets past you.
- Green-left messiah desperately seeking spin-doctor
- The gun genie and its bottle
- On energy, environment, and regulatory independence
- South Africa’s schools of witchcraft and wizardry
- Grab shale gas opportunity, but avoid opportunism
- It’s about who you don’t vote for
- Free markets as a moderate position
- Voting: there’s still time to change your mind
- Green tech is cool, but not because it’s green
- How Mmusi Maimane swindled a vote out of me
- The case to elect Malema to Parliament
- The intellectual gnome, Chomsky
- If Malema isn’t Pol Pot, is he still dangerous?
- Do Malema's followers understand ‘agrarian reform’?
- Look ma, I'm defending Shell's record in Nigeria!
- Any weather is evidence for global warming
- U-turn prof finds his fracking fears are avoidable
- Ramphele et al: The world according to angry feminists
- On HIV/Aids and scary-big numbers
- Cherry-picking ‘grey literature’ on rhino horn
- 350,000 reasons to kill a black rhino
- Eight myths about libertarians
- New Year’s resolutions for other people
- All I want for Christmas is a fire pool
- In defence of Donald Trump
- My old South African flag
- Fearful Fukushima fiction fatigue
- Do we tolerate private sector corruption?
- In defence of a lion killer
- Save the rare wine and endangered craft beer
- Forever blowing bubbles: shale gas economics
- Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill: When “certainty” means “wait and see”
- This land is my land: a revolution
- The launch of SA's Libertarian Party: herding cats in time for 2014
- The African case against the ICC
- The fossil fuel subsidy myth
- Think of the little fishies!
- The hilariously misunderstood libertarian
- The sickly history of sweeteners
- Pants on fire, but they’re not mine
- The obstructionism of shale gas activists
- How mind-numbing numbers whip up fear
- Why pick on Khanyi Dhlomo?
- Half-measures will fail the rhino
- Malema’s righteous anger... and naïve confusion
- Lottery licence to go to one lucky winner
- Vaccinations: when the state stabs the people
- Do reusable shopping bags kill people?
- The long walk to serfdom
- The Karoo desperately needs development
- The trials of Samson Shuttleworth
- The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest
- Raping the discourse about rape
- Who is the reasonable man?
- Fracking: Debating a big deal
- Who needs the Queen’s English?
- Electric cars: Taking from the poor to give to the rich
- Business Licensing Bill: An indefensible defence
- Red-tape tourism
- The Big Business Bribery Bill
- On Thatcher and society, Vavi and the market
- Extinction: Let’s make up numbers and panic!
- Feeding the world is getting easier
- Stop talking shit: Build your own toilet
- Climate change is pseudo-science
- Anti-competitive competition law
- The Department of Less Government
- An open letter to President Zuma
- In defence of Kim Kardashian
- The world’s weirdest wildlife sanctuary
- Boycott calls are simple-minded
- In defence of vegans
- The population explosion implodes
- Environmental backpedalling picks up pace
- How Mangaung can help and hinder entrepreneurs
- The elusive libertarian enclave
- The Gathering: Ivo Vegter
- The hidden overemployment crisis
- The case for constructive environmentalism
- Privatise the Western Cape's shacks
- Tenders: Not open to employees or their families
- Hurricanes fuel climate sensationalism
- Next: Gross-out warnings on food
- No new deal: The failure of Zumanomics
- Benoni has a bright idea
- Was I wrong about acid rain?
- Public food gardens: Where dumb ideas thrive
- Rethinking the costly food label madness
- Give hunting a chance
- Fracking gets green light, but here's the risk
- Socialists, bless 'em, visit Cape Town
- Buy a 1Time ticket now
- Give the ANC credit where credit is due
- The myth of the competent apartheid government
- It's a disaster that 'peak oil' is not a disaster
- No Gravy: a label for sustainable business
- This lightbulb's going to blow
- Smokers? Get 'em up against the wall!
- Inflating the obesity scare
- Bring a Shotgun to School Day
- GMOs: Hacking genes to feed the world
- The hidden dangers of charity
- Fracking: the unread paper debated
- Fracking: The “U-turn” paper nobody has read
- Eco-cronyism is as dangerous as any other
- SKA: Be grateful Karoo residents didn't object
- Energy: Get cracking on fracking
- Fair trade, unfair trade-off
- Casual labour is only bad for Vavi's unions
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- How do we fix our dismal education?
- Barter: the rebirth of sound money
- Rights are not entitlements
- Debunking 'limits to growth' inanities
- Tax: Why align with "most other countries"?
- Newspaper sensationalism doesn't help rhinos
- Rolling Stone reprises Gasland's fracking fantasies
- Cosatu's manipulative march move
- Why do 16 million people not constitute an economy?
- The age of smear politics
- Does fracking cause earthquakes?
- The Chinese model is morbidly obese
- Green tech: doubling down on a losing bet
- Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies
- Petrol taxes won't hurt the poor
- Jailtime mooted for bad weather warnings
- Let's ban bans, and start with CITES
- In defence of overpaid sport stars
- On the death of Kim Jong-Il
- COP17: Let's ban fire
- Cancer gets you when nothing else can
- COP17: The 'party on' agenda
- COP17: The Blue Line of Death
- New seven natural inanities
- Occupiers' anger is all that makes sense
- The Luddites and Technocrats live on
- Malema marches for economic slavery
- Profitable purveyors of pudendal prettiness
- Sense? Us?
- If they want rhino horn, let's sell them some
- "Stimulate" economy by ending telco abuses
- Executive pay makes nobody poorer
- Malema's real persecution
- Mogoeng: Lock up your daughters
- Don't mandate insurance, deregulate healthcare
- I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Short selling: panicked pols ban proof of failure
- Don't blame those who saw it coming
- What's obscene about profit?
- In defence of Bombela
- Dear president Zuma, you are not above the law
- The economics of love
- Treasure the Karoo? Ban the SKA!
- Malema is right, you know
- Gautrain's PPP: political patronage profiteering
- Kumi Naidoo is no hero
- LeadSA fails to lead when it matters
- No logo means carte blanche
- The drug war: dopey but dangerous
- A response to fracking critics
- Don't vote. It's your right.
- Welcome Walmart
- If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
- Buy local, support poverty
- Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Karoo fracking scandal exposed!
- I'm ashamed for my profession
- The bill of bunkum
- Being gay: a brand new concept!
- Who's afraid of the nuclear wolf?
- The nationalisation canard
- Ogilvy should grow a spine
- The new robber barons
- A classy revolution: Why we cared
- Bombastic Bombela balks
- Liberty is more than mere democracy
- Gautrain has a law unto itself
- The irony of 'services for all'
- How to hire a hitman in SA
- Arrive alive and neurotic
- The oppression of taxis
- Protection of Information Bill and why WikiLeaks is so dangerous
- Fifa, Russia and Qatar deserve each other
- One day, we'll all hate WikiLeaks
- The cycling mafia strikes again
- What Julius got for Christmas
- Let's return the beads
- Away with fascist seat belt laws
- Tintin Mbeki in the Sudan
- How the ANC can make everyone happy
- Currency: the race to the bottom.
- Hurrah for national healthcare!
- Give Zimbabweans citizenship
- Carte Blanche has no carte blanche
- That finger-licking, lip-smacking taste
- Bomb the barbaric lot already
- Green tax: another raid is coming
- Do strikers deserve anything?
- The media will lose this battle
- Global warmism needs a fisking
- A glass half-full
- Go ahead, have a baby
- Stop the handouts - end xenophobia
- The right to fire
- FIFA's heart of darkness
- Have some self-respect
- I ordered an orange skirt
- Secretly, Match blames South Africa
- The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- The Fifa conquistadors are coming!
- What's wrong with everyone?
- Leave poor BP alone
- The destructive power of government
- The bonsai economy
- The darkness of Africa
- Who is ripping off whom?
- Anatomy of a whitewash
- While FIFA takes over, we fight
- The pointless pretence of Earth Hour
- Ten reasons to reject climate alarmism
- Really, boycott the FIFA farce
- The climate dominoes fall
- Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Screw the consumer
- In defence of bankers
- Break the banking cartel
- Julius Malema, the walking contradiction
- Boycott FIFA
- Climate clarity
- In defence of Boney M
- Pray Copenhagen fails
- Capitalism is not unkind
- Climate fraud kills people
- Pop goes the hot air balloon
- Peace, love and schadenfreude
- The irony of the left
- Too late to cool it?
- Going cold turkey