The City of Johannesburg had started the count down to the August 30 kick-off of the Rea Vaya bus-rapid transit (BRT) system, said City of Johannesburg member of the mayoral committee for transport Rehana Moosajee on Tuesday.

The BRT system’s main routes would see buses run in dedicated lanes, stopping at specially designed stations, located roughly every 750 m along the way.

Moosajee noted that only a small amount of work remained on the city’s to-do list for next month’s phase 1A ribbon-cutting.

This included a small section of work in Soweto, and four stations out of 27 which still had to be completed.

Moosajee said that signage and variable message signs were still being installed, as well as temporary fare collection equipment.

She noted that the BRT system would start operations with paper tickets, but would migrate to smart cards in 2010.

The starter service would run from Lakeview station, in Soweto, to Ellis Park station, also offering an inner-city complementary service. It would operate in two shifts, with limited off-peak services.

The full phase 1A, to be implemented by January 2010, would use expanded trunk and feeder routes, offering a three-shift operation with a three- to five-minute frequency during peak times, and 20 minutes during off-peak periods.

Moosajee noted that the 143 Scania buses required for the 25,5 km phase 1A had already arrived in Gauteng, and had completed testing at the South African Bureau of Standards. They were currently being licensed.

She added that the designated bus drivers, drawn from the taxi industry, were currently being recruited and trained.

All buses and stations featured closed-circuit television cameras.

Tickets would be available at the stations and from other vendors, with drivers not handling any money, thereby ensuring a much speedier service.

Fares were to start at R3 for using the complementary service in the central business district, R3 to use a feeder system (feeding passengers to the main stations), R5 for using the trunk, or main, route, and R8 to use a combination of a trunk and feeder route.

Moosajee said these fares may change, however, if significant increases in fuel or other input costs arise.

She added that the city’s BRT project had created 3 300 jobs to date, which would increase as the system expanded.

Phase 1B of the BRT system would include a second Soweto route, running past the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Witwatersrand, on to Sandton.

Phase 1C would encompass the route from Alexandra to Cresta.

The full phase one cost was estimated at R10-billion, with R3,5-billion going to infrastructure, R2-billion to the acquisition of buses, and R5-billion for the contracts with bus operators.

Moosajee said not all costs were to be recouped from the fare box, which meant the system would be a government-subsidised public transport service.

She estimated that 69 300 passengers would use phase 1A of the BRT system daily, once it was fully operational.

This phase of the system was expected to generate R158-million in income a year.

She noted that the city remained locked in negotiations with taxi operators – the system would displace around 575 taxis – to form a bus operating company, which she hoped would be in place by the end of the year.