|Laden with shopping bags, a woman disembarks at the Ellis Park East Station to make her way to her little Bertrams home, just a stone’s throw away.
In passing she greets an acquaintance and her child, leisurely strolling up the station ramp in the opposite direction, the hurry in their step reserved for when they disembark at their final destination in Thokoza Park, Soweto, which they call home – after all, there are enough buses to take them home should they miss this one.
And sure enough, another bus is already rounding the corner at the bottom of Bertrams Drive, ready to take this one’s place in the next minute or two. This is Rea Vaya in action and it looks and feels first class, confirm commuters.
The two red articulated buses – travelling in opposite directions – are docked at the station simultaneously and people move with ease through the ticketing and boarding process, with volunteers on hand to assist passengers with queries.
About 850 pairs of feet walk through Ellis Park East Station daily. It is not the busiest station on the Rea Vaya trunk route; this label is reserved for Thokoza Park, where commuters numbers top about 1 500 a day.
“The demand on the trunk route is very good. All our buses are well utilised.” Rea Vaya is also offering services to and from Orlando and Ellis Park stadiums on an events basis, he confirms.
The road this far has not been without its speed bumps. The biggest challenge is for buses to stick to their timetables, he admits. Not all of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes are completed and in some parts of the city Rea Vaya buses still have to make use of normal traffic lanes.
“We are trying to mitigate this problem. Johannesburg metro police will be introducing contra-flow lanes [for the buses] in the Diepkloof area and in Noord Street towards Fashion Square and adding pointsmen.”
Van Zijl says the problem with the stations doors will soon be a thing of the past, too. At the moment, station ambassadors open the doors as the door operating system interfered with the bus system. All buses are being fitted with new technology which will allow the driver to open the station doors from inside the bus, without any interference.
Taxi drivers on board
Not so, indicates a group of off-duty drivers catching up on some gossip between shifts. Driving the Rea Vaya buses is a pleasure compared to their past taxi-driving jobs. And they had no problem finding their bus-driving feet, although some still find station docking a bit of a challenge.
On board, the drivers switch to the latest in technology, with access to a GPS system, panic buttons, route and destination screens, a public address system and CCTV cameras.
An additional feature of this high-tech system is sure to thrill their old taxi driving hearts: referred to as the Automatic Passenger Management System (APMS), drivers will also be able to communicate and manipulate traffic signals, switching red lights to green, lengthening the period for green lights, even shortening the period for a red light – all so that they are able to run their buses exactly on schedule.
The APMS has been fitted to all the vehicles and will be fully operational in about two months’ time when the back office and control centre becomes operational, to be run from the Joburg Roads Agency offices in Sauer Street, confirms Van Zijl.
Not on board
Traffic signaling, lane painting and signage also still need attention. “We have a long way to go with law enforcement and the rest.”
For now, the BRT project office will focus its energy on fine-tuning the first phase of Rea Vaya so that it runs absolutely smoothly come the FIFA World Cup. This includes introducing feeder buses and complementary modes of transport.
“Going forward the goal is to have phase 1A working properly by 2010.”