Bus Rapid Transit system - a necessary inconvenience

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pretoria - For now, it may be seen as an inconvenience for commuters trying to make it to work on time, but authorities maintain the introduction of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Pretoria will usher in a new chapter in the city’s public transport network.

Since construction of BRT stations began from the city centre to Menlyn via Sunnyside and Hatfield more than a month ago, motorists have expressed frustration at delays on major intersection. But once the system is up and running, it will be worth all the trouble, says Tshwane Executive Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa. 

The national government will have spent more than R5 billion on the system by the time it is rolled out through the Pretoria centre by October next year.

“It’s a necessary inconvenience and I have been appealing to our residents to be patient. The BRT system speaks to the poor, it’s the most efficient public transport system ever to be introduced,” says Ramokgopa in an interview with SAnews on Monday.

To mitigate the current traffic congestion on major intersections, more than 460 Tshwane Metro Police officers have just received training as points men. The number will be increased should the need arise.

City officials are working hard to ensure that disruptions are minimal and that the first phase - stretching from Nana Sita Street (the former Skinner Street) in the CBD to the suburb of Hatfield - will be operational in April 2014.

In total, 51 stations will be built, from Kopanong in Soshanguve to Mamelodi on some 80km of road. At peak times, trunk services will operate every 3-5 minutes, with feeder services every 15 minutes. 

“We want to mitigate as much congestion as possible and we will always communicate to the affected people at times so that people are not in the dark about what is happening,” says Ramokgopa.   

He acknowledges that while the BRT system is known to be reliable and affordable, there was probably confusion when the system was first introduced in Johannesburg, blaming poor communication.

There were fears that the taxi industry may boycott the introduction of the system in Pretoria as initially witnessed in Johannesburg three years ago, when BRT busses were targeted by opponents of the system.

Taxi industry to own part of BRT

But Ramokgopa maintains that Pretoria’s system will be different because the taxi industry will own a portion of BRT operations, making them direct beneficiaries.

“We are communicating this less in the public and it’s important that people understand that we are not taking food out of the mouth of the taxi industry. We will buy the sets of buses then the affected taxi association on a particular route will own that operation.”

The city’s role will be to regulate the system in partnership with the taxi association in charge of operations on the affected taxi route.

“In essence [taxi operators] will be better off. Their income is more predictable and they own the value chain and the drivers are theirs.”

Ramokgopa pointed out that inefficient apartheid spatial planning had made it difficult for people to access city centres where main economic activities take place. People, especially the poor, use a lot of money just to travel to work, leaving them with very little disposable income.  

“What it did was to locate the poor and largely black people at the periphery of cities...the poor spend 70 percent of their income just on travelling and it’s got social manifestations.”

System reliable and safe

The BRT system is new to South Africa having been first introduced in Johannesburg. Cities like Durban and Cape Town and Port Elizabeth are now showing interest.

It is designed to provide a consistent public transport system which replicates systems used on rail. In Johannesburg, BRT buses run from 5am to midnight everyday with buses arriving at stations every three minutes during peak travel hours.

BRT buses use dedicated bus lanes, which run down the centre of existing inner city roads. Passengers can expect reduced travel times between home, work, retail and social destinations, with improvements in traffic congestion and road safety.

The system is also seen as South Africa’s efficient response to climate change as more people are encouraged to use public transport instead of individual cars.

“The lesser the cars on the road, the lesser the carbon foot print because there are less emissions people are not using their cars and they all to this viable public transport system.”

Ramokgopa confirmed that BRT stations in Pretoria will be equipped with free WIFI to allow commuters access to free internet while waiting for the bus.

“When we say this is a world class public transport system, we want it to be as efficient as possible and our aim is for people to experience that.  We are more than confident about the prospects of the poor being able to have access to this world class system.” – SAnews.gov.za

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