About 69 000 commuters travelling between Soweto and the Johannesburg CBD daily will benefit from the launch of the much-anticipated R1-billion next phase of the Rea Vaya bus rapid transit (BRT) service due for October 14, says the city’s executive director of transport, Lisa Seftel.
Progress on the phase, known as 1B, has been slow as talks with affected stakeholders have taken much longer than envisaged, despite the infrastructure of dedicated lanes and signalling having been completed two years ago.
The first part of the Rea Vaya system – phase 1A – is operational, providing about 40 000 passenger trips a day between Johannesburg and Soweto.
Phase 1A also took more time than expected to negotiate with affected operators who, in that instance, were minibus taxi owners. Phase 1B’s negotiations were more complex as the city had to negotiate with privately held bus company Putco and various minibus taxi operators.
“The buses have started to arrive and we are assessing the routes, and training drivers,” Ms Seftel said. “We will start with 57 buses and then each month after that we will introduce the different feeder service buses.”
The 1B trunk route is an important east-west link in Johannesburg, which has few links that run in this direction and will connect Soweto with a trunk route that will pass hospitals and the University of Johannesburg, terminating at Constitution Hill.
Phase 1B will carry three-quarters more passengers than phase 1A. The latter runs on a more north-south route between Soweto and the CBD.
Independent transport analyst Paul Browning said any progress to accelerate the roll-out of much-needed public transport services in the city, must be welcomed.
“If we bear in mind the strategy was adopted in early 2007and we are now in latter 2013 and we look at what has been achieved so far, then we can only applaud any development,” he said.
The fact that construction of the median lanes and bus shelters was completed so far ahead of the commencement of services, indicated that in the two phases undertaken by the city so far, the “soft issues” may have been underestimated.
The soft issues Mr Browning referred to were the crucial negotiations with the transport operators who would be displaced by the BRT system, who are meant to take over the ownership and operation of the systems.
“One may ask whether these programmes are being done in the right order – other metros undertaking similar BRT systems can learn from Johannesburg’s experience,” Mr Browning said.
Metros planning similar BRT systems include Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, eThekwini, Cape Town and Rustenburg. Construction of these has already begun in Tshwane and Rustenburg.
Ms Seftel said negotiations with Putco and affected taxi associations had not yet been concluded, and that the city expected the final agreement to be in place by April next year.
In the meantime, as with the phase 1A roll-out, an interim special operating company would operate the service on a fixed-term contract.
Once the contract had been concluded with the taxi owners and Putco next year, the company would be taken over by them, taking all staff along with them.
“When you start a system like this, it is best to test everything. We will get a good sense of passenger behaviour while the interim company is operating the service. We will be able to optimise the system,” Ms Seftel said.
Article source: http://business.iafrica.com/businessday/876943.html