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Exploring a vision of mobility for the City of Cape Town in 2050 “The shifts in thinking, shaped by our scenarios, have been widespread and are now somewhat of a norm. Where the mind-set of not immediately having an answer as to what to do next initially caused discomfort, it is now embraced and is a clear signal that unconscious shifts back to more traditional processes have not been automatic.

It has been extremely useful to have futurists advise on possible methods and to facilitate discussions to guide the scenario process. This has assisted in developing a view of compelling plausible futures within which agile, relevant and more resilient transport systems can be developed.”

-- Claire Holderness, Manager, and Marli Swart, Principal Professional Officer City of Cape Town Transport Planners - Systems and Modelling

The future of mobility in cities in the developed and developing worlds is of great significance to residents. Mobility provides access to opportunities, influences quality of life through emissions, and facilitates the physical connectivity required to power local economies. This is clearly evident in the City of Cape Town, South Africa, where natural beauty often masks structural inequalities. Despite the advent of democracy, spatial and commuting patterns continue to be exacerbated by the legacy of apartheid-era spatial planning and inadequate access to public transport. 

How could an understanding of the plausible futures of mobility in the city make a difference to residents’ lives? A scenario planning process offers up some hope, perspective, and insights into potential solutions. As the management consulting firm McKinsey confirmed:

“Mobility is one of the hottest sectors. The influx of innovative solutions has yet to solve the problem of congested roads however, and almost every country is feeling the effects.  New mobility trends and automotive technologies, especially leading-edge electric-vehicle (EV) batteries, frequently make the headlines. Others are emerging more quietly but could have an equally significant effect on future mobility, although some may not exert their full impact for several years.” (McKinsey, 2023)

In 2022/23, a City of Cape Town (CCT) urban mobility planning team embarked upon an important journey to develop plausible scenarios to better understand plausible futures of mobility in the City by 2050.

In times of great uncertainty and complexity, scenarios are important long-term tools that enable planners to successfully navigate important decisions around where and how to focus public investment and energy in an optimal mobility system. What will be the pace of adoption and impact of emerging technologies? Which interventions could accelerate an optimal mix of motorized and non-motorized transport?  How do less formalized modes such as the dominant, but volatile minibus taxi industry contribute future value to public transport whilst simultaneously encouraging a shift to rail solutions with the potential for fast, safe and cost-effective travel for a fast-growing population?

Never has informed, aligned and responsive decision making been more important. Never has historical data been less useful in determining what the future will look like. The challenge in City of Cape Town’s scenario crafting was to balance rich streams of available information with actionable intelligence sourced through scenarios. 

The successful melding of a scenario framework with an insightful understanding of systems and complexity thinking, together with the identification of clear contextual signals, creates an early warning system to inform important transport system decisions. 

The constraints in developing mobility scenarios for the City of Cape Town included a limited budget and a short period of time to develop the scenarios. This meant that planners had to be bold, focused, and use the collective intelligence of a microcosm of the mobility planning community to inform a rich, insightful view of what the future has in store for CCT. 

Large scale, high engagement processes are not new to City of Cape Town. It had already collaboratively developed a Massive Transformative Purpose for mobility and used Design Thinking to bring residents’ personas to life. Building on these foundations, futures tools such as Backcasting, Causal Loop Diagrams, Cross Impact Analysis and Futures Wheels were used to inform the logic of a structured scenario process as illustrated below:

Figure 1: The Scenario Planning Process. Source: Scenario Workshop.

All good scenarios start off with a clear framing of the challenge(s) to be explored. For CCT, the guiding challenge was framed as: “What are the potential, plausible futures for safe, secure, sustainable and citizen centric Mobility for the city of Cape Town by 2050?”

Data regarding the current system and forces shaping its future were collected, providing a comprehensive foundation for the scenario crafting. 

Figure 2:  Pestle illustration

Source: Scenario Workshop: Illustrator, Courtney Koopman

A key principle underpinning the approach was the active involvement of stakeholders from different disciplines within the urban and transport planning environments. A secondary objective was to integrate the different disciplines to increase awareness of the use of innovative strategic planning methods, whilst simultaneously encouraging collaboration and participation. This was done to ensure that the process and ultimately, the scenarios, are reflective of the important role access to mobility/transport plays in the broader urban planning system. This served as a catalyst for ongoing iteration and engagement and contributing to molding compelling narratives about the future of mobility within a future urban landscape. Drawing in diverse perspectives ensured that the scenarios were not only robust but reflective of the complex multidimensional and interdependent factors shaping the future.

Participants selected the two axes representing the most uncertain and impactful forces that could potentially shape the future of safe, secure, sustainable, and citizen-centric mobility for City of Cape Town by 2050. These axes became pivotal in providing a structured framework to explore the myriad plausible future mobility possibilities.


Although a highly contentious indicator of success, economic growth, “an increase in the production of economic goods and services, compared from one period of time to another” is still an important proxy for the future ‘job’ that the mobility system is expected to perform. The City of Cape Town enjoys a strong local economy but is still strongly influenced by South Africa’s national economics. Issues such as load-shedding (availability of electricity), safety and security, as well as the national government’s stewardship of the economy, are all important forces influencing the future. 

Understanding how economic growth, stagnation or contraction might play out impacts not only the future ‘job’ of mobility but also how it may be funded (public or private investment) and how economic interest groups such as the Minibus Taxi Industry (MBTI) may best align their interests with public transport operators to deliver citizen-centric mobility. 


No marketplace is ever totally informal. Levels of formality simply develop or regress based upon regulation, the effectiveness of regulatory enforcement and other barriers or incentives to entry. Levels of formality therefore range from high levels of formality to low levels of formality. A mobility sector characterized by high levels of formality usually has forms of centralized control over mobility including the planning and management of public transport and regulations or prescribed standards that govern the way, where or how people live, work or travel.  

With low levels of formality, power is decentralized, there are few rules or prescribed standards and the development of mobility solutions are emergent and organic based upon the needs, efforts and interests of individuals, groups and/or communities. In developing this axis, it was clear that there could be no value judgement about what was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in a high or low formality environment -- both have their benefits and downsides.

Minibus taxis, as a crucial supplement to public transport, operate in a hybrid form of formality. Many taxis are licensed to operate along specific routes and their conduct may be regulated through enforcement. It is also true that regulations are difficult to consistently enforce. Many unlicensed operators take advantage of a lack of enforcement capability to ‘bend the rules,’ setting up potential conflicts with authorities. The economic interests at play also ensure strong incentives to protect and enhance access to routes and passengers.  

Whether or not MBTI becomes more or less formalized impacts the role it plays within the public transport system. As an important, non-subsidized, entrepreneurial supplement to the public transport system, the MBTI plays a critical role in ensuring mobility services to serve emergent demand. In a more formalized role, the MBTI’s role may well be extended into an enhanced range of safe mobility options extending from sedans to buses and from ad hoc to scheduled services. 

Formality and regulation may also be used to shift choices of mobility modes by structuring greater incentivization or dis-incentivization. For example, if rail was a safe, secure, accessible, and low-cost public transport option, it may well fundamentally reshape mobility patterns in a city. 

Initially, four key narrative quadrants emerged from the two axes:

Figure 3: Four Scenarios. Source: Scenario Workshop.

Developing scenarios around the future of mobility required planners to suspend disbelief and to imagine a world that exists beyond the boundaries of current reality. The following paragraphs provide a glimpse of the narratives developed.


Figure 4: Scenario 1 – Tale of Two Cities. Reference: Scenario Workshop. 

Illustrator: Rashied Rahbeeni.

It is 2050 and Cape Town can best be described as the city that never sleeps! High rates of economic growth have attracted high net worth individuals and digital businesses to make Cape Town their home. Remote work has reduced the need for commuter public transport, with citizens able to work flexibly whilst enjoying CCT’s ‘green lung’ corridors.

Tourism has soared but is more environmentally friendly with controls over aircraft emissions. Integrated mobility solutions link high-speed rail connections with light rail and bus rapid transport systems. The City centre has transformed into a mixed-use, mixed-income, high-density living environment, which provided close proximity to work. Poverty has been alleviated through a City-funded Universal Income Grant, which incentivises social contribution. Mobility-as-a-Service has replaced private vehicle ownership with mobility charges paid directly to City.


Figure 5: Scenario 2 – All Aboard. Source: Scenario Workshop. Illustrator: Rashied Rahbeeni.

In 2050, Cape Town is a thriving, bustling metropolis! Migration from all parts of Africa has supplemented Cape Town’s already rich heritage of cultural diversity. Wherever you go, the sounds and smells of the continent’s wide range of cultures entice one to spend time in restaurants, pubs or retail emporiums offering a spectrum of consumer and tourism experiences. The diversity of people who now call the City home have brought unique skills, abilities, and an entrepreneurial flair to the local economy.

Spatial planning has however failed to make a difference and conflicts over access to land are prevalent. Mobility solutions and spatial planning are aligned to minimise commuting. Micro-mobility, in particular walking and cycling, are the first choices of many residents. Land usage requirements have been relaxed, with technology enabling localised production of goods, services and food. Conflict has emerged between those who advocate a return to natural living and access to technology, which has made digital work ubiquitous. Digital work has however become a low-paying occupation for many, despite the fact that digital entrepreneurs continue to thrive.


Figure 6: Scenario 3 – Managed Decline. Source: Scenario Workshop.

Illustrator: Rashied Rahbeeni.

In 2050, Cape Town has struggled economically for two decades with low and, at times, even negative economic growth. Political instability in South Africa, coupled with an uncertain and increasingly volatile world has meant that the City has had to dig deep to come up with the innovation required to ensure that its citizens enjoy secure, sustainable, and citizen-centric public transport. 

Economic challenges have meant that the transition from the Internal Combustion Engine to renewable energy powered vehicles has not been as widespread as expected. The City attempts to control usage and emissions whilst incentivising the transition. Alternative sources of funding such as Public Private Participations (PPP) have been used to develop new Light Rail Transit (LRT) / Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Infrastructure, although the City moves increasingly towards licensing all forms of mobility to fund revenue shortfalls.


Figure 7: Scenario 4 –Bloomsday. Reference: Scenario Workshop. 

Illustrator: Rashied Rahbeeni.

In 2050, Cape Town has adapted to ongoing low levels of economic growth and, at times, sharp contractions. Although the world is now a far more stable place, CCT has been deeply impacted by South Africa’s struggle to sustain higher levels economic growth. The City’s equitable share from the national government has shrunk as funds have had to be diverted elsewhere to deal with areas of extreme poverty and need. South Africa’s agricultural output has been devastated by years of extreme weather events that have increased their impact and frequency in the years post 2030.

Low levels of compliance with licensing requirements have also impacted the City’s revenues and it is no longer able to fund mobility infrastructure or enforcement, choosing rather to incentivise the transition to energy efficient, autonomous vehicles. Technology has advanced to ensure that these are safe from collisions and new solar-powered autonomous vehicles are widely used for mobility purposes. Mobility mega-entrepreneurs have become wealthy and powerful, clashing with one another for routes and passengers, with the City often powerless to intervene.

During the evolution of the scenario narratives, an important question resonated with participants, “What would be the impact if energy was free?’” A fifth scenario was therefore created imagining the possibilities free energy could unlock.


Figure 8: Scenario 5 – Lazy Mobility. Source: Scenario Workshop.

Illustrator: Rashied Rahbeeni.

Low-cost energy -- unthinkable 30 years before but now the new normal! Spray-on solar film has allowed any surface -- cars, homes and buildings to become solar energy generators. In 2050, every building is treated in this manner, feeding basement power storage units sufficient to keep every appliance working all day and night long.

Low-cost energy has also revolutionized public transport. The previous challenges of air pollution and excessive carbon emissions driving climate change, are interesting chapters in the near-past history of City of Cape Town. They have been supplanted by challenges caused by congestion as City of Cape Town’s inhabitants take to the streets to enjoy mobility freedom. 

Whether citizens live in affluent suburbs or low-income townships, everyone has easy access to mobility. The trade-off however is that mobility has become more formalized and regulated. Micro-mobility in the form of electric scooters, bicycles, and covered electric Trikes became a boom industry in the transitional 2040s, with cheap conversions and the sale/servicing of new electric versions attracting entrepreneurs. Micro-mobility has become the primary feed-in to public transport as commuters use micro mobility as a primary source of home to transport access…

In reflection, the power of scenarios does not lie solely in the content of their narratives. The true power lies in the powerful, no holds barred conversations they provoke. These have shifted perspectives and world views whilst stimulating creative thinking. They have evolved a new shared perspective of embracing emergent strategy and agile, resilient planning. The challenge now lies in navigating towards a range of plausible futures, whilst continuously adapting and re-shaping a mobility ecosystem that delivers enhanced value to citizens.

The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating;

The paths are not to be found but made;

And the activity of making them, changes both the maker and the destination. 

-- John H. Schaar


Deidre Samson has extensive corporate marketing, strategy, innovation, ideation and futures experience.  Samson is a Director of Future-Fit and is a faculty member of the University of Stellenbosch Graduate School of Business Executive Development programme and the University of Free State MBA Programme where she lectures on scenario planning.  Samson is on the following expert panels; United Nations Development Programme: Strategic Foresight Expert Roster, Interpol: Futures & Innovation Panel and Policy & Research Panel: Department of Economic Development and Tourism (Western Cape Government). Samson has a BA degree majoring in Communications and Psychology, a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing, a Post Graduate Diploma in Future Studies - Cum Laude, an MPhil Futures Studies - Summa Cum Laude and Top Student (University of Stellenbosch). 

Ian Paterson is a strategist, specialist large group facilitator and Director of Future-Fit, a boutique strategy and futures consultancy. Paterson works extensively across the public and private sectors globally and locally in South Africa.


Kersten Heineke., K, Laverty N., Möller., T & Ziegler F. 2023. The Future of Mobility. McKinsey & Company. 23 April 2023. Retrieved from: 

Wade, W. 2012. Scenario Planning – A Field Guide to the Future. Designed by Nathalie Wagner, NaWa Design. John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Hoboken, New Jersey. Wade & Company, SA 

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