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31 Jan 2009

Phase 1 A from Soweto will start service in May. Thabiso Thakali reports.


Imagine catching a city bus at an island station built in the middle of the road. You’d pay a flat fare at an automated machine while you wait, and when the bus arrives, step through the doors and zip through traffic, stopping every 500 metres at a station.

That means no taxis, no trucks, no cyclists, no interference whatsoever, because nobody can interfere with that lane. lt is designed and segregated just for the new express buses.

With an average journey from Soweto to Sandton currently lasting almost 90 minutes, the bus could cut that to an hour or less. Buses will be able to load passengers within 30 to 40 seconds at every station and the cost would be about the same as an existing bus or taxi trip.

Hard to imagine in Joburg, but this is what the multibillion-rand Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system being rolled out in Joburg hopes to achieve. At an estimated capital cost of about R2-billion, the BRT is set to Revolutionise public transport in South A.frica’s economic hub.

"This is a major contribution towards improving Joburg’s public transport system," says BRT project manager Bob Stanway "lt will have profound benefits for the movement of people around the city".

But with Joburg‘s roads infrastructure already clogged by traffic, the construction of the exclusive lanes for BRT, particularly in the central business district, has led to even more traffic chaos. The bus lanes mean there are fewer lanes for motorists.

Stanway says a great deal of planning went into looking at divert- traffic for road users and how best to avoid gridlock. "We recognise that it has been a difficult period for road users during the construction of the system but we believe it will really be worth it," he explains.  "We are trying to be as efficient as possible to ensure that the traffic chaos is minimised during the construction period." He says the speed with which Joburg is growing has made the need for reliable, safe and efficient public transport system even greater.

"It was important for us as a growing city to create a system of public transport that works and that was not expensive to implement." Almost 8-million vehicles are believed to use South Africa’s roads every day almost a quarter of them in Gauteng.

Seven-million South Africans use public transport, according to the Department of Transport, and the majority of them are in Joburg. For the past two years, authorities at the City of Joburg have been studying how public transport systems in South America and the Caribbean have been improved through the adoption of the BRT system.

Now locally known as Rea Vaya (We are going), the system is a dramatic departure from the taxis that have characterised public transport. Unlike minibus taxis, which depart only when they’re full and stop wherever a passenger has been sighted, the BRT buses operate to fixed schedules between dedicated stations.

During peak hours, Rea Vaya buses will pick up passengers at stations evezy three minutes, while during off-peak hours, buses will arrive at stations at maximum intervals of 20 minutes. ln high volume areas such as the new Joubert Park station, G0 buses an hour will ferry passengers to their destinations.


A total of 143 prototype buses from Brazil are expected in the country over the next few months for the launch of the first leg of the project. The planners envisage that most of those commuters who use public transport in the city will be within a few metres of a Rea Vaya station, with buses running from 5am to midnight daily.


The system will have three interconnected level of services: the trunk, the complementary and the feeder services. However; the council will operate only two types of buses - articulated trunk buses, which will run on exclusive lanes, and complementary buses, which will run either in the middle dedicated lane where the route already exists or on normal traffic roads like Metrobus, "Because these buses use their own dedicated lanes, they will be much faster than any other bus, and we believe it will be more efficient and time-saving to take a bus when travelling around the city" adds Stanway "People will be able to plan their journeys much more confidently and easily because there will be reliable transport in place."

Articulated buses can carry up to 112 passengers, while complementary buses take up to 81 passengers. The complementary buses will have high - level boarding doors on the right-hand side to allow them to link passengers to BRT stations and low-level ordinary bus doors on the left-hand side that will be used to offload passengers onto pavements.

Rea Vaya is being rolled out in three phases. Phase 1A, which will run from Soweto via the Soccer City stadium and two loops in the CBD and then to the Ellis Park stadium, will start service in May in time for the Confederations Cup in June. Phase 1B, which will include a route from the city centre via Parktown, Rosebank and Sandton, is expected to be completed ahead of the World Cup.

The complete system, which will have extra routes, including ones to Randburg and Alexandra, will be completed by 2013. lts security measures will include an extensive closed circuit television camera network monitored at a control centre and a rapid response team on standby for any incidents.

Taxis will still be needed to supply passengers to the BRT networks, Taxi owners in the BRT routes will become majority owners in companies that will be contracted by the council to run the new service.  "The idea is that BRT will soon be a far better choice for getting around Joburg than taking a private car" Stanway adds. "The city can not continue to sustain the number of cars on its roads."

(Main) South view of the Rea Vaya station at Joubert Park. where construction is complete. (Left and above) Computengenerated impressions of what the stations will look like. Buses will be able to load passengers within 30 to 40 seconds at every station. During peak hours. buses will pick up passengers at stations every three minutes, while during off-peak hours, buses will arrive at stations at maximum intervals of 20 minutes.


Saturday Star

31 January 2009

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