Johannesburg is a world-class city and the diversity of its transport system reflects exactly that – plenty on offer and something for every taste and pocket.
Like many African cities, Johannesburg has a chaotic informal public transport system in the form of minibus taxis. These are not taxis in the typical Western sense of the term – they won’t give you a lift to your doorstep. Rather, they are small-scale bus services, often unmarked, operating with neither timetables nor formal stops.
Taxis are one of the cheapest forms of transport in Johannesburg, and are the daily transport lifeline of the bulk of the working population.
They are the closest you may get to mixing with ordinary people. They are also the only form of public transport that penetrates every last sector of the city, including the poorest shack settlements.
But use of the taxi system for anything other than a short drive requires an expert knowledge of the unwritten lore of hand signs indicating which taxi is travelling where, and an understanding of the various routes and how they intersect.
Despite frequent clampdowns by the traffic authorities, minibus taxis also tend to be old and in poor condition.
Minibus taxi drivers, rushing their fares to their destinations as quickly as possible in order to maximise returns, are the city’s most notorious drivers, ducking wildly from lane to lane and stopping without warning whenever a passenger wishes to climb on or off.
Some of the hand signals used to get around Johannesburg. (Image: Brand South Africa)
Joburg also has its fair share of conventional metered taxis, but unlike in many other countries these do not cruise the streets in search of passengers. They must generally be summoned by telephone. Major hotels do often reserve bays for taxi companies, however. At those that don’t, reception staff can quickly make arrangements for visitors.
The metro railway system is the cheapest form of transport, connecting central Johannesburg to Soweto, Pretoria and most of the satellite towns along the Witwatersrand. The railways transport huge numbers of workers every day.
But there is a problem, at least for the typical tourist. The railway infrastructure was built in Johannesburg’s infancy and covers only the older areas in the city’s south. In the past half century the city of gold has grown largely northwards, and none of the northern areas – including the key business and shopping districts of Sandton, Midrand, Randburg and Rosebank – have any rail infrastructure.
Set up as a company in 2000, Metrobus is wholly owned by the city of Johannesburg. It is the second largest municipal bus operator in South Africa, with 532 buses covering 80 scheduled routes and 130 school routes.
The fleet includes six special needs buses fitted with hydraulic wheelchair lifts.
Metrobus transports about 90 000 passengers daily. One of its primary focuses is to provide transport for major events.
The Gautrain is one of Joburg’s greatest pride. (Image: Wikipedia)
Joburg’s pride and joy is the shiny, gold Gautrain, which links central Johannesburg, from Park Station, with the main business districts of the north. It has stops in Sandton and Rosebank, and travels beyond to Pretoria, OR Tambo International Airport and various suburbs in-between.
Travellers need to buy a Gautrain Gold Card at any station and top it up at a kiosk or vending machine. Each station has a dedicated car park with special rates for Gautrain users, payable with the Gautrain card.
Trains run daily from 5.30am to 8.30pm, at intervals of 12 to 30 minutes. Timetables are available online or can be downloaded on the Gautrain app. Passengers can also phone the Gautrain hotline on 0800 428 87246.
Each Gautrain station is linked to a series of Gautrain feeder buses, which can be paid for with the Gautrain Gold Card. If you use the bus within one hour of the train, the bus fare is R1 to R6; otherwise it costs R14 to R19. On the most popular routes, buses leave every 12 to 20 minutes; otherwise buses leave every 20 to 40 minutes. Buses generally run between 6am and 7.30pm on weekdays only. Bus route maps and timetables can be found at each Gautrain station and online. Buses can also be tracked using the Gautrain app or by calling the Gautrain hotline on 0800 428 87246.
Since its launch in late 2014, the smart phone taxi app Uber has revolutionised the local metered taxi industry by providing a safe, quick and reliable system that is much more competitively priced than most taxi companies in Johannesburg.
City Sightseeing Bus
The open-top, hop-on hop-off red bus is a great way to zoom around many of the city’s biggest sights in one day. You are accompanied by an insightful audio guide on the two-hour journey – the time it takes to do the entire route without getting off at any of the stops.
The Red City Tour takes a circular route around downtown Johannesburg and the south of the city with 11 stops, including the Apartheid Museum, Carlton Centre, Constitution Hill and the Origins Centre. Helpful information and self-guided walking tour maps are available to help you make the most of your time at the different stops.
From the Gold Reef City stop there’s an option to take a two-hour tour of Soweto on the Soweto Red Bus, a minibus that takes a whistle stop tour of this most famous township. It stops at various key sites, such as Vilakazi Street. The Soweto Red Bus leaves every hour from 10am.
From the Carlton Centre stop there is also a Maboneng shuttle that links you to a 1.5-hour walking tour of the fashionable inner-city district which is full of interesting shops, galleries, cafes and street art. The Maboneng shuttle and walking tour is available from Thursday to Saturday at 10am and 12pm and on Sunday every 30 minutes between 10m and 1.30pm.
The first bus leaves Park Station at 9am and the last bus at 3.40pm. Buses are every 40 minutes from Monday to Friday, and every 30 minutes on Saturday and Sunday. The non-stop tour lasts about two hours.
A one-day ticket costs R170, and R130 online for adults; children between five and 15 pay R80. For a two-day ticket, adults pay R270, and R230 online, children between five and 15 pay R170. A combined Red City Tour and Soweto Tour one-day ticket is R420, and R350 online; a two-day ticket R520, and R450 online. Children under five ride for free.
For more information, visit the City Sightseeing website.
Tuk-tuks are one of the more recent additions to Joburg’s roads. (Image: Arrive Alive)
The latest addition to Joburg’s transport network is the enterprising fleets of tuk-tuks based at Sandton Central and in Melville. While speeding around corners and chugging up steep hills on the back of a glorified motorcycle may not suit everyone, they do make travelling between suburbs easier. Also, with fares starting at R30 you can’t argue with the price.
Updated December 2015
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