By Wanjohi Kabukuru – It is the latest trend and yet the only one of its kind in Africa. South Africa’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is not only being hailed as the best for crowded cities and Africa’s panacea to urban transport crises, it is also being billed as “green transport”.
Using the latest technology the BRT encompasses all dynamics of a modern metropolis transport system. It has features catering for the elderly, disabled and even children. With a smart fully automated station, it is configured and standardized to address all transit concerns. In all ofJohannesburg, the BRT system is well known as Rea Vaya which is local slang for “we are moving”. It has already been approved for voluntary carbon credits thanks for its massive reduction of carbon emissions.
With a fleet of 143 buses, Rea Vaya has managed to replace 545 minibuses out ofJohannesburgtransport circuit.
“Johannesburgis a very divided city, owing to decades of apartheid rule, with extensive sprawls all around the city. When this mass and rapid transit system was mooted we saw it as an opportunity to not only address the movement of people but we saw it as a project to unite people.” Councillor Rehanna Moosajee of Johannesburg says.
“To get people out of the comfort of their vehicles we had to come up with a transport system that is sufficiently attractive and has incentives” Moosajee says. “Rea vaya is about social cohesion and breaking all those negative social barriers.”
Way back in 2006, after holding extensive consultations, the City ofJohannesburgapproved a mass transit system to imporove the lives of its inhabitants by providing them safe, regular and seamless transport network incorporating both roads and railways. Before setting up this transport infrastructure, South African government working in concert with the German arm for international cooperation the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenabeit (GIZ) which offered technical support sent a delegation toQuitoinEcuador,JakartainIndonesia,BrisbaneinAustraliaandBogotainColombiato study how they had implemented their mass transit systems. The buses move on dedicated lanes and have enclosed stations to cater for passengers needs.
GIZ posted 33 experts to offer the City ofJohannesburgtechnical support in setting up the BRT system.
“We helped design the bus routes as well as the number, size, and location of the stations as well as the time-table.” Alan Walsch, who is GIZ International Services regional director forSouthern Africa says.
“Everything was of course done by the South Africans themselves. Ours was to offer support where it was needed and am glad they took our advice and todayJohannesburghas yet another first forAfrica.” Walsch says.
To introduce the BRT system complete with its accompanying benefits was not easy. Opposition from vested interests within the taxi community who saw this plan being mooted as a danger to their investments was voiced.
“Some of my colleagues have paid with their lives for this change. It has been a journey full of heavy sacrifices to see the BRT system work and win over many who were initially opposed to this idea.” Says Eric Motshwane. “We had to make Rea vaya as inclusive as possible and as such we integrated many of the former taxi drivers as Rea Vaya maintenance managers and also as bus drivers. It has worked.”
“The introduction of this concept brought in unity amongst taxi operators” Motshwane who is the director of corporate affairs at Piotrans, a company subcontracted by the City ofJohannesburgto run the Rea Vaya buses says. “Piotrans is made up of 300 shareholders and has so far created 500 permanent jobs”
When Rea Vaya took off, young people who are normally receptive to newer ideas helped it to be more acceptable to the public. Currently the buses serving the Rea Vaya routes are all imported fromBrazilbut plans are underway too ensure that when the project moves to its second phase all buses will be sourced from within South Africa.
“The World Cup 2010 event gave us the first opportunity to test the viability of the Rea Vaya buses. It was a resounding success.” Moosajee says. “This new bus system definitely had an impact on culture change as it had a large number of passengers standing as opposed to the taxi system where no passengers stood. However it has brought in a better quality of life for the majority and reduced pollution on our roads.”
The tenets behind Rea Vaya according to Charles Blok who is the infrastructure director of Rea Vaya BRT are hinged on efficiency, cleanliness and security. “Rea Vaya is clean, efficient and safe at all times. The question of security was topmost in our plans when we ventured to establish the BRT system. We have a high tech control room that monitors all buses in real time. These is aimed at boosting efficiency and secure passengers with the ability of responding to any eventuality in record time. Rea vaya is a world class transport facility.” Blok says.
According to Blok, Rea Vaya is being constructed in phases. Already Phase 1A which runs fromThokozaParkinSowetoto Ellis Park in Doornfontein has been completed at a cost ofRand1.6billion. Through the BRT 120,000 people are moved daily to their respective destinations. There are 143 GPS-enabled Scania and Marco Polo buses serving the 26 kilometre BRT route. Blok further reveals that by 2013 BRT is expected to cover some 120kilometres and the fleet of buses is expected to rise to 805.
“The greatest element contribution of BRT other than providing employment, uniting communities and moving masses of people efficiently and quickly it’s the contribution it makes to climate change. Through the BRT systemSouth Africais reducing carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 40,000 tonnes per year.” Walsch surmises.
Indeed Johannesburg’s BRT system is enough module lessons for other fast growing African capitals of Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Abuja, Accra, and Dar es sallam among others still twiddling with air pollution, huge numbers of commuters, heavy traffic jams, snarl ups and completely bereft of an efficient public transport outfit.