Fikile Mbalula. Picture: THE TIMES
Fikile Mbalula. Picture: THE TIMES

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says his department will use advanced digital technologies to enhance law enforcement and compliance on SA's roads.

He said the government needed to recognised that technology was transforming the transport sector with incomprehensible speed and scale.

On Monday, delivering his keynote speech at the Southern African Transport Conference in Pretoria, Mbalula said the conference was important as it enhanced government's policy options "in building capacity and embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution".

"We can do whatever ... but technology must be upgraded in order to be in a position to bring about innovative ways of law enforcement on the roads and holding people accountable," he said.

Mbalula called on the government to come up with new policies and laws that will render new technologies in the transport sector beneficial to all, while also addressing the contentious climate change issue.

The government was committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the department's green transport strategy, which outlines efforts to contribute towards a 5% reduction of emissions in the transport sector by 2050, he said.

He also trained his sights on the largely unregulated public transport system, dubbed a law unto itself by detractors, saying it needs to be "innovative and efficient".

Mbalula said e-hailing services such as Uber and Bolt (formerly Taxify), Google Maps, and data intelligence were already disrupting the industry.

He said the next wave of digital technology has the potential to "further transform access [to public transport] and mobility services to make them seamless and efficient".

"Digital technologies are becoming more sophisticated as well as integrated ... major breakthroughs are being realised in advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, etc," said Mbalula.

"The pace of breakthroughs in the industry is unprecedented. My concern is we must not be relegated to catch up, we must be part of the innovators," said Mbalula, who is expected to table his 2019/2020 budget vote in parliament on Tuesday.

He called on both the public and private sectors to prioritise funding for research and developmental in the sector. "Transport technologies are evolving at such a rapid rate."

The transport industry is crucial to the South African economy, which declined 3.2% in the first quarter of 2019. The transport sector, on the other hand, decreased to R275.5m in the first quarter of 2019, from R278.6m in the fourth quarter of 2018. 

Mbalula said advanced technologies should also be exploited to integrate the African Union and re-skill the continent's workers. "New technologies will fundamentally change the nature of work across all industries."

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za