Would you ditch your car?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

South Africa is known for its diverse and intricate public transport system and the  public transport network that our economic hub Johannesburg is favoured with, can easily be ranked amongst the best in the world.  

To celebrate Transport Month, SA News reporter Bathandwa Mbola recently decided to try out the different modes of transport that the city offers.

From minibus taxis to buses, the Gautrain, metred taxis, metro rail trains to the Tuk-tuks, it’s all available in Jozi.

Bathandwa decided to trade the comfort of a private vehicle and joined the thousands of daily commuters on a chilly Monday morning and put to the test the efficiency of the public transport system between Johannesburg and Pretoria. This is how it unfolded: 

By 6am, I was already at my street corner in Protea, Soweto, ready to take my first ride - a taxi to Thokoza Park Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station. The trip cost me R8.50.

Commuting at peak hour meant slight delays though.

The usual 15 minute drive by car takes about 25 minutes as the taxi follows its own rules - stopping frequently whenever the driver spots a passenger - much to the frustration of those late for work.

The driver starts to resort to all sorts of stunts to beat the peak hour traffic. The worst is when he decides to travel on the wrong side of the road, jumping queues of cars at intersections and treating traffic lights as four-way stops.

It is nothing new for some of us as we all know that taxi drivers are notorious for ignoring traffic laws, despite the industry transporting millions of South Africans to work every day. It’s a risk many have no choice but to take. But for me, the nightmare is over.

I arrive at Thokoza Park at 06:26 to buy my Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System ticket for the bus that travels to Johannesburg Park Station via Orlando, Westbury,Parktown and Library Gardens.

I choose the Rea Vaya because it is a reliable and affordable alternate mode of transport in the city, operating on designated routes.

The system, which started operating in 2009 between areas such as Parktown, Doornfontein and Soweto runs in exclusive, dedicated lanes in the centre of existing roads.

Buying my R13.80 single trip ticket was not too much of a hassle despite the packed station. The station was pleasantly clean with security guards keeping a watchful eye on passengers. Friendly staff at the gate guide passengers on bus routes.

By 06: 35, our bus has arrived and people start rushing through the multiple doors to get their preferred seats.

The bus system has proved to be a popular choice among city residents transporting on average 50 000 passengers per day, according to Rea Vaya Director of Service Promotions Benny Makgoga.

Some stations like Orlando Stadium, Orlando Police Station, Soccer City, Noordgesig, Joburg Theatre, Park Station, Joburg Art Gallery, Carlton Centre and Fashion Square even offer free WIFI which is popular, and a joy for especially the youth.

Passengers are allowed up to 250 megabytes of free data daily. For extra security- the buses have CCTV cameras inside.

Not only had the introduction of Rea Vaya brought a reliable and affordable alternative mode of transport – it has also created over 830 permanent jobs, Makgopa says.

The Gauteng government has invested about R 2 billion in this project with future extensions planed northwards to Alexandra and Ivory Park.

I hopped off the Rea Vaya at 07:30 and joined the hurrying feet of the daily users who rushed down the escalators at Johannesburg’s busy Park Station.

The first high-speed urban train on the continent, the Gautrain, capable of doing 160km/h has been hailed as a solution to Johannesburg's notorious traffic jams.

The train seems to be popular not only among the middle class, but across a variety of people, despite it being more  expensive than other modes of public transport.  

More than 50-million passengers have used the Gautrain since it started operating.

Inside the station, security is watchful to ensure that passengers tag their gold cards and respect the rules such as no chewing gum and eating or drinking inside the train.

Commuters, some dressed in suits and ties, stand up to 15 minutes in queues  to preload their gold cards - some with the help of the friendly and helpful staff. My trip to Hatfield will cost me R84, including the gold card. It’s double what I would pay in a minibus taxi to Pretoria which adds up to R35.

“Welcome on board the Gautrain,” an announcement is made through the automated voice operator.

The metallic gold rapid train links central Johannesburg, from Park Station, with the main business districts of the north. It has 30 to 45 second stops at stations like Rosebank, Sandton, Midrand, Centurion and OR Tambo International Airport.

Trains run daily from 5.30am to 8.30pm, at intervals of 12 to 30 minutes.

On my 42 minutes ride between Johannesburg Park Station and Hatfield in Pretoria, I got to marvel the bird’s eye view of scenic landscapes,  Gauteng’s tall buildings, stunning properties and of course motorists stuck in traffic!

After almost 2 hours, 30 minutes, I had reached my destination in Hatfield. Would I advise you to ditch your car for our public transport system?  Well, the answer is yes. You will not only be escaping the stress of traffic but you will be exposed to South Africa’s rich array of cultures and different people that are using public transport on a daily basis. So go on, try it! -SAnews.gov.za 

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