Do you think you know how Joburg works? We thought we did, but did you know that only 33% of respondents interviewed in the Gauteng City-Region Observatory’s (GCRO’s) 2011 Mobility in the Gauteng City-Region report actually used a private motor vehicle as their main mode of transport for all trip purposes, including work, leisure, and education? In comparison, 58% used a form of public transport for these purposes. Fifty-one percent of school children walked to school, with 15% using a taxi, and 8% using a school bus.This information flies in the face of arguments posed by the likes of journalist Ivo Vegter who slates EcoMobility Month as ‘Eco-Tyranny’ – an initiative by the City of Johannesburg that speaks of “green elitism and bureaucratic grandstanding”.

In Thomas Cogin’s response to Vegter in the Daily Maverick this month the author argues that EcoMobility demonstrates that our preoccupation with the private motor vehicle is not only unsustainable, but that it creates an isolated and divided city.

“Vegter does not seem to be opposed to this in general, but he does seem to suggest that EcoMobility Month in Johannesburg is a pointless exercise because Joburg is too sprawling, hilly, and hot. Although this is true, it negates the fact that many people nevertheless rely on both public and non-motorised transport to access the city.” Cogin says.

Cogin is however also critical of the festival, “EcoMobility will not solve these real problems immediately, but it has the potential of reorienting the discourse around Johannesburg from a city reliant on the car and the high wall, to a city where public transport and a vibrant street environment should be the number one priority.”

Yet, the author asks some difficult questions, most of which can’t be answered quite so easily as Vegter’s virulent conjecture, “It means asking why gated communities are allowed to proliferate across the city-region, which expressly forbid non-residents from walking through public space. It means asking why our universities are designed primarily for the private motor vehicle, with public transport and non-motorised transport infrastructure being, at best, an afterthought.” He says.

“My suggestion then to Vegter and other readers who are sceptical of my arguments is to give EcoMobility a go. It will be uncomfortable, primarily because the state of public transport and the spatial environment needs improvement. But, if this is your experience, then complain to the authorities with the same level of tenacity and anger used in protesting against e-tolls. In doing so, we not only improve public transport and the spatial environment for all, but we reshape Johannesburg into a city where our environment and our communities come first – not cars.”

Read Vegter’s original critique here.

Read Cogin’s full response here.