SA ready for Rea Vaya

This Rea Vaya station in Johannesburg
will start operating at the end of August.

Commuters will now have affordable, safe
transportation in and around the city.

School children will also benefit immensely
from the BRT system as it will cover
a number of stops around the city.
(Images: Rea Vaya)

Khanyi Magubane

South Africa’s transport system is set for a major boost when phase one of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system comes into effect on 30 August in Johannesburg, Africa’s leading economic hub.

Named Rea Vaya – meaning “we are going” in township slang – the project will start operating at 23 of its 27 stations across greater Johannesburg.

About 3.5-million trips are made in the City daily. Of these, 47% are made by public transport including minibus taxis, trains and busses.

The system, however, has not been upgraded or improved over the years, resulting in public transport becoming increasingly unreliable and unsafe to use.

But, according to Head of Transport in the City of Johannesburg, councillor Rehana Moosajee, the current state of transportation in the City, and the country as a whole, will soon be a thing of the past.

“Johannesburg’s commuters will have a first taste of their own world-class public transport system.

“We must never forget that BRT is … for the elderly and school children to travel safely, for mothers that need to reach their children speedily and for people with disabilities to have access.”

Phase one A, will consist of a main route, known as the trunk route, which will run from the Regina Mundi station in Soweto to Ellis Park East in Johannesburg’s central business district.

Supported by four complementary routes, the 143 busses included in the roll out plan will make stops at several key places in the City including University of Johannesburg’s Doornfontein campus, the fashion district, the City’s cultural hub Newtown, the City library and the Johannesburg art gallery.

At a media briefing on the progress made on BRT, Moosajee revealed some facts and figures of phase one A of the project;

25.5km of dedicated lanes have been constructed, which will serve an estimated 69 000 passengers on a daily basis.

3 300 jobs were created during the building phase of Rea Vaya.

It’s expected to generate R158-million (US$20-million) in its first year of operation and will use a smart card system, which passengers can reload at approved vendors’ kiosks.

One of the attractive features of BRT is its affordability.
Bus fares will range between R8 ($1) for a full trip using both the trunk and complementary routes, and R3 (39 cents) for the complementary routs running within the city.

Buses will arrive at stations every three minutes during peak hour and every 10 minutes during off peak hours.

SA transport new look

The BRT system is part of the South African government’s plan to overhaul the public transport system in the country, ahead of the upcoming 2010 Fifa World Cup and beyond.

BRT has been designed on similar types of public transport models developed in Columbia, France, Australia, Equador and Brazil.

In the countries where the system has been tried and tested, BRT benefits cited have been its efficiency and reliability, its friendliness to people living with disabilities and the elderly, as well as its decreased energy consumption and vehicle emissions.

Cape Town, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth will also be rolling the BRT system concurrently, and in Cape Town, the system is expected to be operational in March 2010.

Roping in the taxi industry

One of the biggest challenges in rolling out the BRT system has been the resistance from the minibus taxi industry, currently Johannesburg’s majority means of transport.

The taxi industry’s concerns have been the anticipated major job losses and collapse of the industry when the new BRT system is implemented.  

The industry is also concerned with how the new system would fall in line with the government’s taxi recapitalisation programme, which is already underway.

The taxi recapitalisation programme, approved in 1999, was set up to reduce the number of old vehicles on the road, as well as introducing a new non-cash based system.

Government partnered with the industry to remove old, unroadworthy taxis by offering operators a “scrapping allowance” to replace ageing and unsafe minibus taxis with newer models.

According to a survey conducted in 2000, there were approximately 126 000 taxi vehicles in South Africa.

Most of the vehicles were at least 10 years old and no longer fit for road use as public transport.

Government had planned to spend R7.7-billion ($56-billion) over seven years to finalise the system.

In the wake of confusion over the future of the taxi industry, on 24 March, Johannesburg was brought to a standstill when taxi drivers staged a major protest against the new BRT system.

Taxis blockaded major highways around the City, causing traffic standstills on various key roads to and from the City.

In the wake of the unprecedented move by the taxis, President Jacob Zuma pleaded with the council that Rea Vaya should be put on hold, to give the new administration a chance to acquaint themselves better with the project and the grievances of the taxi industry.

Fortunately, significant progress has been made with the industry, represented by the National Taxi Association, Top Six and the Greater Johannesburg Regional Taxi Council.

After a steering committee was set up, both the City of Johannesburg and the steering committee have been able to reach some agreements with regards to the future of the taxi industry in Johannesburg. 

Local taxi operators have now been offered a stake in the new bus operating company as well as a stake in the station management companies.

Some taxi drivers will be employed as bus drivers, as well as station managers.

Those previously in the taxi industry will also have the opportunity to invest and own companies linked to the BRT system.

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