The Rea Vaya Bus system is being put in place to improve public transport in the Gauteng area, with next year’s World Cup specifically in mind.  Johannesburg’s Bus Rapid Transit system, Rea Vaya has been given the thumbs-up by a world expert on public transport.  “Joburg is on the right track,” Enrique Penalosa, the president of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in New York (ITDP), said after being taken on a tour on the Rea Vaya buses, according to Penalosa was instrumental in setting up a BRT system in Bogota, Colombia, when he was mayor. Bogota was one of the World Cup host city’s case-studies prior to setting up the Rea Vaya BRT.

Penalosa was taken around the Rea Vaya developments by Johannesburg’s mayoral committee member for transport, Rehana Moosajee, Connie Bapela, the chairperson of the section 79 oversight committee, and other city officials. He congratulated the city on its “beautiful” Rea Vaya BRT system and its high quality stations, saying that the “structure of Johannesburg’s BRT is world class”. He referred to the BRT as being a “beautiful symbol of democracy, all citizens are equal before the law”. The tour, earlier in October, picked up the entourage at the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) offices at the Bus Factory in Newtown and took them to Rea Vaya’s Westgate Station. From there it was off to Soweto.

Speaking about transport concerns, Penalosa explained that traffic would become much worse as the city grew bigger. Cities could not solve mobility problems with private cars, nor could they make roads bigger; it was not only the number of cars on the road that created traffic, but also the number of trips taken by each car. Public transport will not solve traffic congestion; that would only happen when car use was restricted, he added, which was why cities needed to have great public transport. “BRT systems are the only systems for a city like Johannesburg. They were cheaper and better than rail and moved more people. Bus stations were closer to each other and commuters walked less. People also waited longer for trains than for buses,” Penalosa said to the website.

On the tour, she talked about the state of the BRT at present, as well as the roads, the stadium at Soccer City and Orlando Stadium. Arriving at Thokoza Park in Soweto, she accompanied Penalosa on a walkabout around the bus station. She added that all the BRT drivers had a background in the taxi industry. Penalosa was asked to reflect on his experiences of the Rea Vaya BRT and made comparisons between Joburg’s system and international best practices. Rea Vaya was officially opened on 30 August at the Westgate Station in the inner city. At present it is in its starter phase, plying a route from Soweto in the west to Ellis Park in the east.

Intended to be a nationwide solution, Johannesburg is the pilot. Work began with roads being widened to accommodate separate bus lanes. The buses can hold either 75 or 112 passengers and run every three minutes in peak time and every 10 minutes during off-peak time, from 5am. Once fully operational, BRT buses will travel about 330 kilometres across the city and suburbs. The now complete first phase, Phase 1A, travels from Regina Mundi Church in Thokoza Park, Soweto to Ellis Park. The route passes stations at Orlando Stadium, Westgate, Chancellor House, Beyers Naude Square, Carlton Centre, Fashion Square, Johannesburg Art Gallery, and the Doornfontein campus, to Ellis Park North and Ellis Park East stations.

The bus system will be a key mode of transport for fans attending matches and getting around the city in 2010, and it will leave a great legacy for Johannesburg, while allowing the rest of the country to develop similar systems and improve the general network of public transport throughout South Africa.