Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya rapid bus transit system will cost less to run than the current Metrobus service, the city’s transport director said yesterday.

While fares for the bus system that rolls out at the end of the month will be cheaper than taxi fares – with ticket prices as low as R3 – the number of commuters expected to use the service will bring in the necessary revenue, Lisa Seftel said.

“Unlike Metrobus, which the city subsidises, we will be looking at providing a service to the city at a much lower cost. We’re not saying BRT will be without subsidy. It won’t be in the same way. If the patronage works out, it shouldn’t be a problem. If not, we will have to put in money. We guarantee a minimum return (to the operating company).”

It remains to be seen whether commuters will take to Rea Vaya in the numbers expected. The city predicts as many as 69300 passengers a day will use it in its initial phase, a 25km trunk route linking Regina Mundi in Rockville, Soweto, with Ellis Park in central Johannesburg. When the second phase is rolled out ahead of the Soccer World Cup in June, that number is expected to rise to 334000 a day, or 104-million a year.

A guaranteed income for the operating company is crucial to getting buy-in from taxi associations that will be affected by the service. Under the BRT model, taxi and bus operators become owners and operators of the new bus service. The minister of transport has promised there will be no loss of income to taxi owners who trade in their taxis for a stake in BRT.

But predictions for Phase 1B may already be inaccurate. Member of the Mayoral Committee for Transport Rehana Moosajee said last month its full rollout would be interrupted. A proposed leg taking bus traffic north along Oxford Road would not be opened before the World Cup due to a lengthy environmental impact study and residents’ objections.

Others doubt whether the bus system can be the financial success the city claims.

“If they say it can be done at lower cost than Metrobus, I would like to see some proof,” said Vaughan Mostert, a lecturer in transport at the University of Johannesburg.

While some public transport services, such as in Hong Kong and Japan, do not require subsidy and can even run at a profit, this is because they do so in densely populated areas, Mostert said.

“The more people you have, the more feasible it is to operate. Your costs per passenger are low. Once you get to lower density — that applies to most parts of the world, and certainly SA — it requires subsidy.”

Unlike Metrobus, which carries 75000 people a day and ran at a public loss of R8,4m last year , Rea Vaya will benefit from a different financial model that would, for example, pass on rising fuel costs to passengers rather than requiring the city or the to-be-established operating company to absorb them, Seftel said yesterday at a press conference announcing the launch of Phase 1A. The model, which is being negotiated with nine of the 10 taxi associations affected by the first part of Rea Vaya, will be made public when the negotiations are over, she said.

Separately, the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and anti-BRT lobby group the United Taxi Association Forum (Utaf) this week accused the city of acting in bad faith.

The city had extended talks with taxi owners to areas that should be the remit of a national government-led joint national working group and had divided the industry, they said.

“The City of Johannesburg is not acting in good faith,” Philip Taaibosch, Santaco secretary-general, said yesterday. “There are issues running in parallel to the joint national working group. We are not sure which game is being played.”

Utaf spokesman Ralph Jones agreed. “We are busy with the national working group, they are busy with something else.”

Amos Masondo, Johannesburg mayor, yesterday rejected the charge it was acting above its station , saying its actions were in accordance with the national government mandate.

“We will do everything in our power to ensure that negotiations are successful and that indeed we will arrive at the kind of conclusion, acceptable to all parties. But negotiations are taking place at the local level.”