We interview Roberto Quintas as he gets into the driving seat.
When City of Cape Town Speaker Felicity Purchase congratulated Councilor Roberto Quintas on being appointed as the new mayoral committee member for transport during the full council meeting of 19 August, she commented that he has big shoes to fill.
Whose shoes she was referring to was unclear. Purchase was the previous mayco member for transport until she was appointed speaker in May, so the comment may be viewed as self aggrandising. Perhaps she was referring to Quintas stepping into Executive Mayor Dan Plato’s shoes, as he has been acting mayco member for transport in the intervening three months but whose hand at the wheel seemed conspicuously absent during last month’s transport crisis. She could have been referring to her predecessor in the directorate, Brett Herron, who served as transport mayco member under former mayor Patricia de Lille for seven years until his resignation in November 2018. But seeing as Herron is now a member of De Lille’s new party, GOOD, and the mayoral candidate for the upcoming elections, it is unlikely Purchase was referring to him.
Whatever the inspiration for Purchase’s strange comment, being political head of Cape Town’s transport directorate is undeniably one of the most challenging political positions in the City. Ironically, it is also the one with the least power over public transport. The City is in charge of the MyCiTi service, but it has little to no control over the biggest public transport entities, being the minibus taxi industry, Metrorail, and the Golden Arrow bus service. Yet the city’s very economy is dependent on their smooth and continued functioning in order to transport workers across the diabolic apartheid spatial divides that bedevils our city. With rail having deteriorated to a fraction of its former and potential capacity, as much as 70% of the approximately 35% of Capetonians using public transport to get to work have to rely on minibus taxis. As last month’s violence revealed, it is not a reliable or safe commuting option.
Which is why Quintas says he will continue to push for the municipality to take over the running of Metrorail’s essential, albeit highly deteriorated, service.
A business plan to this effect was developed under Herron, but a full feasibility study pegged at R71m has recently been stymied by Treasury.
Quintas explains that Treasury’s preliminary finding that paying for a study on a service that does not fall under the City’s constitutional mandate, would be flagged as irregular expenditure. Nonetheless, he says “the conversation about devolving that service to a provincial or local authority is extremely important, so I don’t believe it is one that we’re going to give up on necessarily.”
“The space for possibly moving forward is there, it’s finding the legal and prescribed manner to do so that is where we are currently and it’s certainly something I’d like us to pursue within the ambit of compliance.”
The ultimate aim, mooted under Herron, was to link the rail, bus, MyCiTi, and even the minibus taxi services to a single ticketing system so that commuters could use one card, such as the MyCiTi MyConnect card, for all public transport services.
Asked whether he would build on the foundation laid by his predecessors (Herron, essentially), Quintas was ambiguous, saying: “I think we go back to basics as much as possible.”
However, he added that the directorate would “continue with building what we need to do in terms of finding that partnership working with national government and province, so ultimately it is a working model. We’ll have to find out what we can and can’t do with an aim to supplementing, assisting, taking over.”
The aim, he says, is for Cape Town commuters to be “spoilt for choice, in terms of how they choose to get to work, or get to play.” An integrated system with a variety of options would mean shocks such as last month’s commuter crisis brought on by taxi violence, or something like a rail failure, would be cushioned.
Quintas agrees that the legacy of apartheid spatial planning that has workers travelling scores of kilometres to get to and from work, is a significant contributor to Cape Town’s transport woes. Dealing with this problem requires working closely with other directorates such as spatial planning and environment, and human settlements. Quintas believes industry and commerce should be developed within or near communities which need it the most. Creating jobs where jobs are needed not only reduces travel distance but also reduces the city’s carbon footprint.
Quintas lights up when it comes to carbon emission reduction and combating pollution. As Hout Bay ward councillor he’s been very involved in combating pollution of the Disa River and he is “100 percent” committed to reducing pollution within the stormwater systems within his new directorate’s control, and keeping retention ponds clean. For this he has to work closely with the water and waste department but he’s careful to point out that residents also have to stop using stormwater drains as garbage disposal or as illegal sewage conduits.
He also wants to play his part in bringing the city’s carbon emissions down in line with global best practice as spelt out in the Council of Parties (COP) Convention. At the same time, he hedges that Cape Town is situated in a developing (exploited) country so may not be able to meet developed (exploitative) country emission targets.
“It is not always easy to meet that middle ground but I certainly hope that we can exceed the middle ground at the very least.”
Significantly reducing carbon emissions and establishing safe, reliable, efficient, and sustainable public transport options and reducing private vehicle use requires vision, persistence, and years of effort, but the near-term priority for Quintas is getting the MyCiTi N2 Express route back on track. Out of operation since a dispute among the route’s taxi industry shareholders when their contracts ended in the first half of 2019, he believes it can be operating again within the first quarter of next year.
He said “meaningful strides have been made” prior to his taking office and he believes “we are at a point where we are ready to sit around a table and take the necessary meaningful steps that we need to have this service back online.”
“It is my greatest wish and hope to see that commuters from those communities in Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha have access to the CBD and surrounds via the MyCiti network on the N2 Express from the beginning of next year.”