The first day of the new, extended Rea Vaya bus service was a success, despite violence and vandalism, the City of Johannesburg said on Monday.
By late afternoon Johannesburg metro police spokesperson Inspector Edna Mamonyane said no further disruptions had been reported.
“We’re not aware of any further incidents. But we’ll continue to monitor the situation.”
The city said both the new feeder routes from the suburbs to Rea Vaya stations, as well as the main routes connecting Soweto with central Johannesburg had worked well, with all buses full.
Problems in Soweto — including blocked railway tracks, vandalised bus stops and the intimidation of commuters — had been sorted out by midday.
Nineteen people were arrested and would be charged with public violence.
Mayoral committee for transport member Rehana Moosajee, said the Rea Vaya system showed it could handle an increased volume of passengers.
“We experienced some initial first-day challenges but, in the broader context, the success of the service demonstrated the need that existed for a rapid bus service to move passengers safely and effectively across our city,” Moosajee said in a statement.
She praised commuters for staying patient and calm, despite long queues at BRT stations and threats of violence.
Bheki Nkosi, Gauteng’s transport and roads minister, condemned criminal behaviour during Monday morning’s protests.
“The threat to life and acts of civil disobedience which accompanied the taxi industry protest action are regrettable, noting the engagement processes that have taken place and continue to take place between the government and the taxi industry on this issue,” he said in a statement.
Cosatu condemns violence
Nkosi hoped a speedy solution would be found to the differences between the taxi industry and the city. Law enforcers would “remain on full alert”.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions also condemned the violence.
“Cosatu condemns unreservedly the shooting of commuters, blocking of roads, and burning and stoning of buses,” spokesperson Patrick Craven said in a statement.
The service introduced on Monday included a main route between Dobsonville and the Johannesburg city centre and Ellis Park Station, as well as feeder services from Naledi to Thokoza Park Station, from Jabavu to Lake View Station and from Mofolo to Boomtown Station.
The next phase is expected to be introduced on May 3 and service times would be extended.
The feeder and complementary buses would make over 179 stops along the routes.
Moosajee said the city would remain open to talks with organisations within the taxi industry not yet part of the BRT process.
Earlier on Monday, United Democratic Front leader Bantu Holomisa said taxi drivers could be forgiven for thinking President Jacob Zuma had strung them along to keep the peace ahead of last year’s elections.
Last year, just before the election which saw Zuma become president, he met taxi operators to discuss their grievances with Rea Vaya buses. At the time Zuma was sympathetic to the taxi operators’ plight and called for the introduction of the BRT to be temporarily halted.
Some operators, like those associated with the United Taxi Association Forum, claimed the government was taking over routes which they saw as their “intellectual property”.
The large buses form part of the Soccer World Cup transport plans between the city and Soweto.
By December last year, the Johannesburg council and the city’s taxi industry said 167 operators had agreed to take their vehicles off the road in return for compensation of over R3-million from the city.
However, there had been a number of shootings linked to the introduction of the new system, the most recent on Friday night in Klipriver Valley Road when a bus was raked with gunfire, but nobody was injured. – Sapa