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Maretha Britz is a trailblazer, working to bring safe and reliable public transport to her homeland.
As the Managing Director of Trapeze Group in South Africa, based in Johannesburg, she understands the complexities and the challenges. Africa is a checkerboard of countries, languages, governments, landscapes and people collectively sharing one of the planet’s largest and wildest continents.
“You need to really understand Africa to be successful in Africa because there are so many different countries and they each have different cultures, habits and traditions,” Maretha says.
It’s also a place where tax bases are small and infrastructure is still developing. Most of the major infrastructure projects in Africa are supported by the World Bank, European donors or other parties. And all large African cities are faced with the same challenges, she says.
The main issue is funding. When it comes to public transit, there are little funds available because of corruption or insufficient tax revenue to provide subsidies.
“There’s quite a big gap between the top end of the market and the lower end of the market. There is no middle class. The people at the top end are relatively rich, they can afford to drive fancy four-by-four vehicles, and then you have the lower class who really struggles and only have enough money for that one bus trip or one taxi trip, so if something else happens, they basically can’t get to work.”
One recent study found that more than 55 to 60% of people walk to work, she says, although these trips are not short. Cities in South Africa are structured in such a way that the inner city includes downtown office space, surrounded by commercial areas on the perimeter, while most of the workers live on the outskirts.
She’s passionate about making change, and brings a wealth of business development strategy to extend the Trapeze local footprint.
“Making public transport available to these people will make a difference and it will enrich their lives,” she says.
Drawing on her experience in Enterprise Resource Planning with Deloitte and Oracle Solutions, Maretha entered the realm of public transportation at an opportune time. The South African government had just started an initiative to come up with a formal plan for deploying public transport to three or four of the largest cities in the country in its preparations to host the World Cup of soccer in 2010.
It was a significant turning point. Prior to 2009, South Africa had no formal public transportation system – no municipally managed or other formal agency operated systems. There was a massive taxi minibus industry fraught with problems.
The solution was Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), the fastest and more economical way to get a quality transit connection between the World Cup host cities, their downtowns and their soccer stadiums while leaving a lasting legacy. And, for the better part of a decade, South Africa’s Department of Transport and major cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria embraced BRT.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Maretha says. There was a tender out for a ticketing solution for transport for the City of Cape Town and she was part of the winning engagement from the sales cycle all the way to starting the installation.
Today, there is a growing desire to put funds, resources and subsidies into the rail sector. BRT still has an important role to play and there are ongoing studies to determine how best to improve the system and the taxi minibus industry it supports.
“My job is quite challenging, however, it gives me the opportunity to be innovative,” she says of leading the Trapeze team In Africa since 2015.
“I can come up with innovative business models and financing models to see how we can help cities to deal with the financial challenges they have and, at the same time, make these solutions available to the commuters so they can have a safe, reliable trip to work or trip back home.”
When she’s not chasing the World Bank for funding, or chasing lions on a much-deserved holiday on safari, Maretha spends Saturday mornings at the soccer field cheering on her grandsons. And every morning before settling into her workday, she takes her two Scottish terriers, Mia and Milo, on an 8km walk.
She doesn’t do anything half-way!
“It’s so much better to clear your head outdoors, than being inside four walls.”