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Critics say Joburg's new public transport scheme will lead to chaos

By unknown | Dec 29, 2006 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Joburg is rushing to implement a slick citywide public-transport system by 2009, but critics say the plan will lead to traffic chaos and will probably harm Gauteng's booming economy.

The first phase of the city's Rea Vaya bus rapid-transit system is expected to be in operation by April 2009, 15 months before the soccer World Cup hits town.

Massive 160-passenger buses will traverse the main roads through Johannesburg in dedicated bus lanes. The city hopes to woo passengers to the system with the promise that they will have to wait no longer than 10 minutes between 5am and midnight for buses that will ferry them from one side of the sprawling metropolis to another.

The city's transport planners say a vast network of feeder services will ensure that 85 percent of residents live no more than 500m from public transport once the system is fully implemented in the next decade.

But critics say the two dedicated bus lanes that will be carved out of already clogged main arteries such as the Soweto Highway and Oxford Road in the northern suburbs will force commuters' cars on to suburban roads that were not designed to handle such traffic.

"This will cause massive congestion and increase the risk of accidents," says Gary Ronald of the Automobile Association.

"These narrow roads were not built for such heavy traffic flows, which will lead to their rapid degradation."

But Councillor Rehana Moosajee, a member of the mayoral committee for transportation and one of the main forces behind the planned public-transport system, remains defiant.

"ANC policy is to make local government work better for all, particularly our constituency, who need public transport," she says.

"Two-thirds of the households in Johannesburg have no access to a private car. We have to provide public transport for the vast majority and plan in the interests of the two-thirds [of the citizens] without cars, regardless of the knock-on effect on the one-third with cars.

"It is a question of values and power relations. Rea Vaya is putting a programme on the table that will change the quality of life for many and level the [socio-economic] playing field."

She says one of the biggest problems the city's planners face is dealing with the legacy of apartheid spatial planning.

"Public transport money has effectively been subsidising private cars. That will now change.

"We understand there will be discomfort, but as a local authority we need to look to the future. It all goes back to values and which side of the fence you are on."

Not so fast, says Brand Pretorius, chief executive of McCarthy, the largest motor retail group in the country. He says the city's integrated public-transport programme is a praiseworthy initiative, but the problem is "a multifaceted challenge" that requires full consultation, which has not yet been undertaken. And unintended consequences could harm the economy.

The motor industry expects the vehicle market will continue to grow by 6percent to 8percent a year at least until 2010. Pressure on the road system that is not being improved or maintained will be more severe, even before the city's proposal to dedicate two lanes to buses on the main routes through Johannesburg.

Clogged roads have already had serious economic consequences and have contributed to declining economic productivity, says Pretorius.

"One does not want to discourage any public-transport initiative," he says, but the city's transport planners should not expect people to respond entirely rationally. Many preconceived ideas about the safety and convenience of public transport would first need to be overturned.

"My gut feeling is that this will take some doing. Our research [shows] that the black middle class want mobility," he says, but adds that a car contributes more than mobility; it also represents status and personal progress to the growing black middle class.

It will be difficult to get white South Africans into public transport and black South Africans working their way up the economic ladder aspire to get out of public transport.

Integrating the taxi industry into the plan is critical to its success. The buses will be run by private operators, who will be paid according to the distance they travel, not the passengers they carry, and for the quality of the service they provide.

But representatives of the taxi industry say they have not been consulted about the early plans.

"They are making consultation a mere formality," says Sicelo Mabaso of Top Six Taxi Management, one of the two main taxi groups serving Johannesburg.

"Nobody knows about it in our industry. We were not involved in the planning and they only informed us about it recently.

"I am still going through the documents, so I don't want to shoot it down yet."

Eric Motshwane, chairman of the Greater Johannesburg Regional Taxi Council, is also sceptical.

"We were just gearing up for the taxi recapitalisation programme and in the midst of that comes the Rea Vaya programme.

"I want to believe that very intense consultation will still take place."


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