Areas and Places

Cape Town’s congestion crises could be curbed with urban housing

Helicopter view of Cape Town
A helicopter's view of Cape Town.

With Cape Town being the most congested city in the country and Capetonians spending an average of 42 minutes each day in traffic (equating to 163 hours per year)*, the City of Cape Town launched the Drive Less, Live More campaign earlier this year, with the aim of reducing congestion.

While the City has proposed solutions like flexible working programmes, remote working and carpooling to address the problem, there is one avenue that was not explored: reasonably priced housing in well-located areas of the city.

Over 30% of the Cape metropole’s entire labour force works in the Cape Town Central City**, but  how many of them are actually able to afford to live close to their place of employment? With the average price of a Central City apartment being R2.337 million** and the majority of the City’s white collar workforce only being able to afford a maximum home purchase price of R 1.5 million (given that, as middle income earners, they earn between R15,000 and R50,000 each month, according to the University of Cape Town’s Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing) the answer is no. The result is that they are being forced to live outside the City in more affordable areas.

This means that they all have to commute and with Cape Town’s road infrastructure lacking the capacity to keep up with growing demand due to rapid urbanisation, it’s not surprising that our roads are characterised by low speeds, long trip times and queues of cars.

These commutes not only have a negative impact on the environment, but also on employee happiness, health and well being as well as their productivity.  In addition, the more time spent commuting, the less leisure and family time they have.

A report by the UK’s Office of National Statistics reveals that the longer a person’s commute time, the greater effect it has on their levels of happiness and life satisfaction. What’s more, a study by the University of Cambridge found that those with long commutes are more likely to be stressed, obese and get less  sleep.

According to the Healthways-Gallup Well-Being Index, there is a distinct correlation between employee happiness and performance, with unhappy employees being seven times more likely to experience a loss of productivity due to the phenomenon known as presenteeism, which is physically being at work but not functioning optimally. In addition, a study by VU University in the Netherlands discovered that longer commutes raised absenteeism by about 16% and that workers were more likely to arrive late and leave early – substantially decreasing their productivity. What’s more, even when satisfied with their job, approximately 18.5% of employees consider leaving their current position due to a lengthy commute.

While the City is making progress in providing housing in and near the city centre for those who earn below R15,000 a month (having recently identified 10 sites for affordable housing development), the private property sector could be providing well-located urban homes for the middle income market and, in doing so, help curb congestion.

Being able to live in or close to the city will truly enable Capetonians to drive less and live more. By being nearer to their work, their travel time will reduce, enabling them to spend more of their time enjoying the city’s many cultural, leisure, culinary and entertainment offerings, which will also be in closer proximity. Plus, they can easily get around the city by walking and cycling, which will help to reduce the number of cars on the road and improve their health so they can live longer.

In the words of Des van Rooyen, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, “where people live, work and play matters”.

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