BRT and you

The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, launched in Johannesburg this week, is set to change the face of public transport in South Africa, writes Chris Bathembu.

For years, the idea of having to endure long queues at train stations or be subjected to long traffic jams has been a nightmare for public transport users in South Africa.

How many times have you reported late for work or school because there was just too much traffic or the train was just too full and you had to wait for another one? How many times were you forced to call a cab or someone to pick you up from town after your midnight shift? There are no running taxis after 9pm!

Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele describes Rea Vaya buses as a "peace of mind". This is why: The buses will be running every five minutes during peak periods and every 20 minutes in off-peak periods starting at 4:45 am to 11 pm! They have their own dedicated lanes so no more fights with your boss because you were late.

"Even, as dusk falls, a mother is assured of safe and affordable travel back home. Peace of mind is when a party ends in Soweto, a teenager from Sandton is assured of a safe, affordable transit back home," boasted Minister Ndebele. And to top it all, it is said that Rea Vaya ambassadors, and I'm not one of them, will always be there for all your BRT needs.

"We experience collective peace of mind when, as day dawns, workers are assured of arriving at work on time. Peace of mind is experienced when workers can move, without stress, around the city performing their jobs," went on Minister Ndebele.

Of course for now the system is being piloted in Soweto and the inner city, and if it succeeds, as it should, then the entire South African public transport system is in for a colossal transformation.

Having had the privilege of being on board one of the colourful Rea Vaya buses, I can understand why some taxi bosses are finding BRT a bitter pill to swallow.

As I got inside the bus, I jumped to the first available seat in front of me and one of the ambassadors whispered in my ear: "That seat is reserved for the physically challenged". Embarrassed because I did not pay attention to the sign on top of the seat, I immediately changed to another one. When one old lady complained about the heat, an air conditioner was immediately switched on and we were told to buckle up and were ready for the journey of a lifetime.

Of course, taxi operators will not suddenly go out of business as a result of the emergence of Rea Vaya, but for some it could be the idea of loosing a captive market that may prove difficult to comprehend. For the first time, commuters have a choice. No doubt the taxi industry, the biggest in the public transport sector, will still play a very crucial role and will remain very vital going forward. However, change was inevitable. Indeed, public transport is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity.

You will remember that FIFA President Sepp Blatter did not mince his words when he criticized the country's transport system during the June Confederations Cup. He said the Park and Ride, which was in the hands of the taxi industry, was a dismal failure, falling short of calling it "crap". With the introduction of these buses, assisted by the taxis, we hope Blatter will be smiling when he returns here next year for the world cup.

Some of the things you need to know about the BRT system:

· · It consists of 90-seater capacity trunk buses and 32-seater feeder buses, which will bring people from outer areas to the trunk routes.
· · Over time, Rea Vaya will cover more than 300 kilometres of trunk routes, across the city, and is expected to transport 430 000 passengers daily.
· · In the near future, business professionals and companies will also use the system and help us move private vehicles out of our congested roads.
· · During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, BRT will provide cities with a fast, comfortable and low-cost urban transport system.
· · The BRT routes are designed to link up with the inner-city distribution systems and various other development nodes and residential areas.
· · Various public transport interchange facilities, along the routes, will provide connection to other road-based public transport services servicing other areas of the city. - BuaNews

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