31 August 2009
Johannesburg became the first city to launch South Africa’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system on Monday, ushering in a new era of first-class, first-world public transport in the country.
The colourful, high-floor “Rea Vaya” buses started running between Regina Mundi Church in Soweto and Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Monday morning, with commuters embarking and disembarking at raised stations with level boarding situated every half to three-quarters of a kilometre.
Modelled on Columbia’s public transport system, the BRT system is expected to be rolled out to other major metropolitan areas around the country.
The system features dedicated bus lanes and stations that are safe, comfortable, weather-protected and equipped for disabled passengers.
Johannesburg’s BRT system includes 143 new buses that will operate between 5am and 11pm daily, at a frequency of every three minutes in peak times and every 10 minutes during off-peak times.
Commuters pay R3 for a trip in the inner city, and R8 for a full trip, with any number of transfers for two hours. Tickets are available at the stations and from other vendors, with drivers not handling any money, thus ensuring a speedy service.
A second BRT route, running from Soweto past the University of Johannesburg and University of the Witwatersrand and on to Sandton, is due to be operating in time for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. A third route will run between Alexandra and Cresta.
Speaking at the official launch of the BRT at Westgate Station in Johannesburg on Sunday, Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said an effective public transport system was key to the country’s economic growth and development.
An estimated 43-million South Africans depended on public transport, Ndebele said, and the state was obliged to provide affordable, safe and reliable public transport.
Ndebele was confident that the BRT would operate smoothly from Monday, despite opposition from some taxi operators.
The minister said that no jobs would be lost in the taxi industry as a result of the BRT. More than 90 taxi drivers had been trained so far to drive Rea Vaya buses, and this number was expected to grow as the number of BRT routes increased, he said.
“We call for a leap of faith on the part of the taxi industry, the public and the stakeholders who may not yet share this vision with us,” Ndebele said.
Also present at Sunday’s launch were Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, and Johannesburg Mayor Amos Masondo.
Masondo described the BRT was a victory for the transport industry, the people of South Africa and the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Mokonyane said the BRT was the beginning of bigger things to come in South Africa’s transport sector.