Public transport is an essential part of the world in which we live – children need to get to school; adults need to get to work; food needs to get from the farm to the table.

Most people in Johannesburg cannot afford their own cars, and so rely heavily on public transport – often travelling vast distances from home to work.

And October is Public Transport Month, which is used to educate people about transport and safety issues, and its impact on the environment.

Rehana Moosajee, Johannesburg’s member of the mayoral committee for transport, explained what this month means to the City.

Public Transport Month, she said, was an event on the calendar to reflect on progress made on transport issues. Transport was important and relied on partnerships with communities to enrich the future.

The theme for 2009 is “Safety in all modes of transport: systems readiness for 2010”; it comes none-too-soon, given the high number of road accident deaths in Johannesburg.

Moosajee highlighted the centrality of transport in general, as every person’s work was affected by transport. For example, health care relied on transport to move patients and medical equipment from one place to another; this example also showed how partnerships between departments worked.

“Through the ability to raise the profile of safety issues, we can build the infrastructure,” said Moosajee.

Joburg’s transport programmes included its Transport Values, established to teach people about the smooth operation of transport. The values emphasised the need for people to be accountable for their actions, to co-operate with other road users, to be honest in all they do, to respect others, and to acknowledge others.

The City’s Transport Values, which can be seen on the City’s Metrobuses, were made public in 2007 with the aim of getting road users to consider their behaviour and find was of improving the transport system.

“We accept that we will not be able to change behaviour overnight, but with the launch of the values symbols, we are starting a process for deep and meaningful change in society, that will lead to safer roads, a better transport system and human-beings that interact with each other on age old traditions”, she added.

The City would hold a Transport Indaba on 23 October that would focus on partnerships to deal with traffic congestion, said Moosajee. The objective was to raise awareness and understanding of commuters’ needs.

The indaba, at Museum Africa in Newtown, will focus on long and short-term public transport problems, congestion, feedback on Rea Vaya, public transport facilities and 2010.

This is the third year that Public Transport Month is being observed. In the past three years, the City worked intensively to raise the profile of road safety and other transport-related issues and had, through these initiatives, laid the foundation for this year’s events.

Ongoing campaigns included the Pro Public Transportation Plan, Moosajee said, explaining that there were enough safe alternatives, such as Rea Vaya and the Businessman’s Express, where people felt comfortable.

“This year we [Joburg] will be showcasing all our achievements,” Moosajee said, “such as Rea Vaya … and Gautrain.”

The Rea Vaya BRT was officially launched on 30 August 2009, with Joburg’s executive mayor Amos Masondo saying public transportation in the city would never be the same.

The Bus Rapid Transit system, a national project piloted by Joburg, sets out to provide speedy, efficient and affordable buses for commuters.

Some 40 buses currently run on the Joburg “Starter Route” from Ellis Park in Joburg’s inner city to Soweto.

According to letters to editors, using Rea Vaya buses had restored dignity for those people who used public transport, said Moosajee. The City was using peoples’ letters, comments and suggestions to constantly improve its public transport offerings, such as Rea Vaya.

The first phase of the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system began operating between Soweto in the southwest and Ellis Park in the east on 30 August.

Education is also a key aspect of Public Transport Month and the City’s transport mascot, Pedestrian Angel, will be visiting schools in each of the seven regions to teach children about road safety issues in a fun way.

“The City believes that if we teach children the message of road safety while they are still young, it will not be easily uprooted when they grow older.”

Moosajee pointed out that in 2008 schoolchildren performed plays about roads safety, adding it was encouraging to see that people were beginning to change their behaviour regarding transport safety and awareness.

After Public Transport Month the mascot will continue to visit schools, communities and community structures to reinforce messages of road safety.