Key Takeaways from Portugal

By Lindiwe Mlandu

I’ve just come back from a trip to Portugal. I spent five days in Lisbon and three days in Porto. What struck me was their effective and efficient public transport system. I was blown away by how easy and affordable it is to get around.

I made use of the buses, metro, tram, and railway. You can buy a single ticket that allows you to access all the different modes of public transport including museums and discounts at selected stores.

Before you tell me not to pull a Helen Zille after her trip to Singapore, bear with me for a minute. I am well aware that South Africa is a third world country. However, I genuinely believe that a reliable public transport system is what we need.

In South Africa, those who have cars are forced to drive to work daily because we don’t have an effective public transport system. That means endless traffic jams. Don’t even get me started on the high fuel prices.

At the same time, the majority of the population has no option, but to use public transport. We all know about Metrorail’s horrendous service. Not so long ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa was stuck in a train in Marabastad while on a campaign trail ahead of the general elections. Train delays are a daily occurrence throughout the country. Many people have lost their jobs due to this while others have sustained injuries while jumping from trains that have been stuck in between stations.

The buses also have their own challenges. They don’t operate in all areas and the fleets don’t meet the demand.

Taxis are another story altogether. They are marred by fights over routes to drivers protesting over permits among other things.

It’s fair to say that our public transport system is dysfunctional. I think it’s the time our government partner with other countries that have mastered the art of public transportation. How do they do it? How can we implement it here?

The second lesson was preserving history. The Portuguese have conserved their history from generation to generation; from the historic churches to the Lisbon Story Center. It is very impressive how they maintain their historic buildings. They also make sure that these places are accessible to ordinary citizens. For example, entrance to the Castelo S. Jorge, which was built in the mid-11th century by the Moors, is free to locals on Sundays.

Lastly, there were very few Chinese shops in both Lisbon and Porto. I don’t know the specifics of their legislation, but I’m sure that’s intentional to ensure that the local manufacturing industry doesn’t suffer due to cheap imports from China. We’ve seen what has happened to South African factories since the influx of Chinese clothes. The government should find a way to reverse this and only sign deals that are not detrimental to local businesses.

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