The City of Joburg on Monday put temporary brakes on the Bus Rapid Transit system’s inner-city routes. Lack of signs, poor salesmanship, insufficient enforcement of traffic rules and lack of interest from commuters were cited for the closure. The two routes, which started on September 21, will run on Wednesday for the last time, but are expected to return early next year.

“The Soweto/Ellis Park trunk services will continue to operate normally and are not affected by the withdrawal of the Inner City circle distribution routes,” said council spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane.  Joburg’s BRT, or Rea Vaya, has not been carrying enough passengers to run a cost-effective service, but on Monday city officials insisted there wasn’t a long-term problem.
City of Joburg executive director for transportation Lisa Seftel emphasised that the existing service was a test run and that “from that perspective it has been amazing”.

Modingoane said the trunk route from Soweto via the Joburg CBD to Ellis Park, using 23 stations, was carrying more than 16 000 commuters daily but the inner city circular routes carried only 200 at best.  Problems included not enough ticket vendors or not enough vendor signs, traffic congestion that made it quicker to walk rather than ride a bus for a few blocks, vehicles parked at bus stops, and bus stops needing bolder signs.

Seftel said the service was running on only 40 buses, while the projected 69 000 passengers was for the full service of 143 buses. She said it had not been expected that the test phase would reach break-even point, but that this would happen later with all 143 buses in service. The mayoral committee member for transport, Rehana Moosajee, insisted that costs were not the issue.

She said she had ordered her team to redesign the CBD service, link it to high-density business areas like Braamfontein, and talk to the metro police about clearing the bus stops and lanes. “We then plan to reintroduce this service when we roll out the full phase 1A service in the first quarter of next year. This service will be run by a taxi-owned bus operating company, the next important milestone in the rollout of the Rea Vaya BRT,” said Moosajee. Setting up the service cost just more than R1 billion, she added.