Get going with Rea Vaya

Mugged at a friendly petrol bowser recently? Wasting the precious stuff while keeping your car idling in gridlock?

Well, Rea Vaya (we are going), Jo’burg’s new bus expressway, is coming your way. With designated lanes, the expressway is scheduled to operate over 40km in Jo’burg by June next year. The full 330km will be in operation by 2013 with 86km in operation for the World Cup in 2010.

Fares are expected to be the same as taxis or buses but, with no traffic to block the way, you can zip along to your destination. Missed the bus? Don’t worry—another is coming in three minutes.

Nelson Mandela metropolitan area, Cape Town and Tshwane are expected to follow Jo’burg’s lead.

In a public-private partnership taxi and bus owners will become shareholders in the five bus companies that manage Jo’burg’s BRT.

City of Johannesburg executive director of transportation Bob Stanway said: “The Soweto highway, which covers a distance of 4,5km, is complete except for the station; the Ellis Park precinct is nearing completion and the station tenders have now gone out.

“The BRT is being built for existing public transport users. It is for those taxis and buses that are stuck in congestion. But we are planning for others to use it.”

Rea Vaya will follow the same route as existing buses and taxis. This means that the number of buses and taxis will decrease. Some taxi and bus operators feel they have a raw deal. Stanway said the project is working with stakeholders on the main trunk route.

“The City of Johannesburg is in consultation with its Metro Buses and Putco—the two main bus operators—and the 18 taxi operators on the route to find a solution.”

The shareholders in the companies set to operate the bus system will be the current operators, said Stanway.

He said that although no agreements have been signed with taxi operators they had agreed to work with the project, “with a prospect of being shareholders”. Stanway said he hoped that agreements would be signed by early next year.

Commuters who think they can use the lane to beat the traffic are wrong. Anyone caught within these lanes will be fined. Some taxis drivers who often cut people off might also attempt it, but Stanway said this will not be possible. “If they are found within these lanes they will be fined and we will know who they are as we will be monitoring all lanes.”

In addition physical barriers will separate the designated lanes from the traffic. “Rumble barriers are being put along the route,” said Stanway. He said these are concrete barriers about half-a-metre high, which form a ripple effect. He said this was not an entirely foolproof barrier and will enable buses to be removed from the lanes in case of emergency or break down. “I’m sure 4x4s would be able to climb over the barrier but we will be watching.”

Saving money is one of the main reasons for the BRT system. The rising fuel price has made driving to work unaffordable for many consumers. The price of public transport has also increased. “The operating costs will reflect in the fares,” said Stanway.

Research is being conducted to determine which fuel is more viable in the long term and which will help keep costs down for consumers. Stanway said that the project is investigating diesel and ethanol as well as their impacts on the environment.

Stanway said all the buses will be Euro 4 (diesel) compliant for emission standards, although the council has approved the testing of some ethanol-powered buses in phase 1B. These have not been used above sea level.

Also helping to cut costs is the fact that with BRT there will be one fare for travel over multiple distances, while taxis and buses charge multiple fares. In other words, if you take a taxi from Soweto to central Jo’burg you will pay a fare and another to travel from the inner city to, perhaps, Rosebank.

The use of a smart card will help to speed up journeys. Stanway said these will be similar to many of those used overseas. The card will be “tagged” twice, once on entering the bus and once on leaving, so that the fare is accurately calculated and passengers are refunded if they get off early in the journey.

Getting started
A prototype of a BRT station is being built in Joubert Park and will be completed by September. The remaining 48 stations will be built off-site, should the council approve the prototype. The construction tenders have been finalised.

The buses will stop at the stations, situated every 500m to 750m along the routes, which will have platforms in line with bus doors. A typical four-lane road will become two lanes as the middle lanes are used by the BRT system.

The fleet will consist of three types of buses. Articulated buses, with a capacity of about 90 people, will use the trunk routes in the dedicated lanes, while the feeder buses, which carry about 32 people, will feed commuters on to the trunk route.

Complementary buses, carrying about 65 people, will run on routes without dedicated BRT lanes. This will allow the BRT to operate in the initial stages.

Phase one will make use of 1 190 buses, which are expected to carry about 430 000 passengers daily by 2013.

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