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PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES – An informal opinion of public transport versus private vehicles in the EU and SA.

The European and UK public transport system is amazing. It’s cheap, reliable and covers most distances throughout metropolitan and even rural areas very efficiently.

Over the years of several trips throughout Europe and the UK, my wife and I have become less and less dependent on motorcars and these are just about only useful for when travelling to remote places or the countryside.

The railway and underground are the highest utilised form of transport in the UK. Trains leave form a myriad of train stations ranging from quaint villages to massive junctions which house shops and restaurants and cafés and provide Britain’s commuter service with dependable efficient transport services all in a pleasant, safe and clean environment which remains well maintained to near immaculate condition, despite hundreds of millions of commuters per year using the same infrastructure.

The world famous UK underground in the major cities such as London is synonymous with the culture and embedded as a British institution and provides quick and easily navigated transport to just about all corners of London with its array of bask performers and other interesting people at most of the train and underground stations.

It is reported that an average of 1.35 billion people uses the rail and underground service per annum in the UK alone.

Inter suburban busses run all day and deep into the night and the bus service is as efficient, neat and tidy and their schedules are as clockwork.

Taxis are readily available everywhere, ready to transport you for a ‘quid’ or two and although there is often a notable absence of the popular Űber private taxi service in most smaller cities, this is due to oversupply of available and reliable alternative services and the bus service, for which these private sector services are often redundant and unnecessary.

With such an established network of reliable and alternative choice of transport, individuals make the most of these cheap means of transportation throughout their lifespan. Entire families get by without almost ever needing a car, even when travelling to or through the European mainland.

In comparison, SA (South Africa), which is just over 5 times larger in land mass than the UK, with its vast expanses of land and great distances between major centres, most certainly requires cars and other vehicles to get around.

With such a vast expanse of beautiful country to explore the national railway would seem an obviously great idea to get around, if it was reliable, safe and cost effective which sadly neither which apply, however I remain confident that the SA rail service will improve over time and more services will be implemented as time goes on, however for the foreseeable future South Africans will need to be motorcar bound.

Many years ago, while I was studying, one of our 3rd year dissertation tasks were to compile a whitepaper on the viability of a Gauteng underground, which is now the Gautrain. Of course, this made sense and the syndicate study group I was part of arrived at a most emphatically positive outcome of such a public transport system throughout the Gauteng province as also Cape Town and Durban too.

Having travelled on the Gautrain many times in the past, the train (or tube) provides a vital artery to the main centres across Gauteng and recent articles in the media suggests that more stops and destinations will be added to the current route and it will be expanded in a modular manner. It remains a world class public service, highly maintained and very secure.

Cape Town has a well-established bus service and the same operation runs in George in the Garden Route offering affordable transport and reliable time schedules. Cape Town now also has a new underground initiative with a matching project being planned for beginning 2024.

Then there is the informal transport taxi sector which more often than not provide a dangerous and poorly regulated alternative to millions of commuters daily. An entire book can be written on this industry sector, which any further detail I will skip in this article.

Public transport in the EU (European Union) almost negates the need for daily personal transport which leads to the final part of this article being the cost of cars.

At this point is must mention that parking in the UK is very challenging to say the least, and often requires leaving your vehicle in a periphery town and continuing on via train or bus into the cities.

With such a high density of people comes many and varied regulations and parking, vehicle congestion management and exhaust emission taxation are only some of them.

However, with so much competition from public transport, cars and vehicles in the UK are cheap in comparison to South Africa. With commuters opting for the national transport service car manufactures have a tough time in offering competitive alternatives of self-managed transport.

Buying a car in the UK is as easy as buying any other regular commodity item from a store, and the process is made purposefully easy.

In comparison to South Africa, vehicles in the UK and Europe are quite a bit cheaper not only due to the massively incomparable population challenging prices at every turn in favour of the public transport, but also by sheer volume of available choices.

(The UK has on average 15 million more residents than South Africa on a land mass 1/5th its size)

This makes local air travel a much sought after alternative in South Africa too, however again due to the size of the country and in ratio, the small population, the cost of air travel is relatively high too compared to the EU.

Back in the UK all major vehicle brands offer almost irresistible offers as do used car dealers from finance, insurance, purchase plans and other product schemes geared to entice the buyer with a myriad of low to zero interest rates and other incentives for us the consumers to pick and choose from.

Consider this comparison chart of basic transportation comparison. These figures are based on local UK earnings and not exchange rate calculations.

They simply reflect South Africa with Rand earnings versus the UK with Pound Sterling earnings.

Transportation United Kingdom South Africa  
Gasoline (1 litre) 22.16 R
(1.23 £)
16.85 R
(0.94 £)
-45.30 %

Volkswagen Golf 1.4 90 KW Trendline


(Or Equivalent New Car)

294,000 R
(16,338 £)
323,894 R
(18,000 £)
+10.17 %

Toyota Corolla 1.6l 97kW Comfort

(Or Equivalent New Car)

277,658 R
(15,430 £)
333,809 R
(18,551 £)
+20.22 %

Considering that South Africa is really far from other densely populated northern hemisphere countries and sits at the tip of Africa, OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) components which is one of the factors governing vehicle pricing, makes vehicle ownership in South Africa quite challenging and in general as also the lack of reliable public transport and over regulated licencing and pricing not to mention the finance restrictions imposed on the South African population.

Given the comparatives between South Africa and its EU counterparts of population density and demand, available finance and other related resources, transportation in South Africa compared to Europe and the UK still has a long way to evolve.

So, when South Africans emigrate to live in the UK or Europe, they are presented with all these transportation options which are very refreshing alternatives for them.

In the meantime, and in my humble opinion, the best way to enjoy the vast expanse of South Africa is still by car and in the EU and UK by rail.

About the author

Marc Bandemer


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