16 October 2013
Johannesburg has commissioned the second phase of its multi-billion rand bus rapid transit system – part of a 13-city integrated public transport system rollout that is creating tens of thousands of jobs and driving the localisation of bus manufacturing in South Africa.
The system, featuring dedicated bus lanes, easy access stations, reliable scheduling and routes designed both to integrate with other transport modes and connect previously underserved urban areas, promises to transform public transport in South Africa’s major centres.
Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are currently being constructed in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Rustenburg and Port Elizabeth, and the the government plans to extend it to seven more cities – Nelspruit, Bloemfontein, East London, Polokwane, Msunduzi, Ekurhuleni and George – over the next five years.
Opening up South Africa’s cities
Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, speaking at the opening of the east-west link of Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya BRT system on Monday, said the system aimed “to bring many of the benefits of car ownership to the public transport system: namely flexibility, speed and wide access”.
Patel noted that the spatial geography of apartheid had separated economic hubs from residential areas, both countrywide and in the cities, where large townships such as Soweto served as “dormitory settlements from which workers were transported daily to the industrial and commercial areas and affluent suburbs”.
The new integrated public transport system for South Africa’s cities sought to address this by connecting work and residence in a more integrated way.
“Modern cities work on a combination of transport modes,” he added. “Our challenge has been to connect these seamlessly so that workers can use these in combination to reach their destinations.”
Patel said that Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya system had so far created 21 925 jobs in its construction phase, and that Johannesburg and Cape Town would be spending R624-million between them this year on 220 locally assembled BRT buses.
As the BRT system is rolled out in other cities, “they too will specify locally manufactured buses for public entities to purchase, creating we hope the economies of scale and market size that will see a dynamic, competitive local bus assembly industry”.
Infrastructure for inclusive growth
Patel noted that the BRT system was part of a wider, R4.3-trillion infrastructure programme that would fundamentally reshape South African economy and society.
“The national infrastructure plan announced in 2012 is the biggest intervention by government to lay the physical platform for inclusive growth and social development in more than 40 years.”
The plan comprises 18 strategic integrated projects (SIPs), including plans to build a new seaport and inland ports, along with new roads, power stations, windfarms, dams, hospitals, universities, and railway lines to the country’s untapped mineral reserves.
“All these programmes are intended to make the life of citizens better through creating new economic opportunities and creating jobs, and by making our cities and rural areas better places to live,” Patel said.