David Crawford discusses ITS developments in South African public transport with Paul Vorster.

South Africa is investing heavily in new infrastructure. The Government has approved projects worth over R523 billion (€45bn/US$69bn), much of which will be spent on transport schemes ranging from new and upgraded airports, via integrated public transport links, to the country’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in five of its major metropolitan areas.

The aim is to avoid the approaching gridlock resulting from the growth in private car usage and the widespread absence of acceptable public transport alternatives. In response, the Cabinet approved, in March 2007, a Public Transport Strategy and Action Plan which requires all levels of Government – national, provincial and metropolitan – to work together on implementing a high-quality Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network (IRPTN) over the period 2007-2014. ITS will be a major enabler.

The new projects already under way will soon achieve critical mass, believes Dr Paul Vorster, CEO of ITS South Africa – which has recently established a national ITS Centre of Excellence as a delivery mechanism for new transport technology.

“Taken together, they will succeed in changing the face of South Africa, restoring much of the country’s lost mobility and strengthening its entire economic base,” he says.

Gautrain Rapid Rail Link
One of the most far-reaching schemes is the R20bn (€1.7bn/US$2.6bn), 80km Gautrain Rapid Rail Link mass rapid transit network being built in Gauteng. This province is the economic hub of South Africa, contributing around a third of national GDP – and, of all its nine provinces, the fastest-growing (albeit the smallest in area) in population.

It is experiencing rapid urbanisation, centred on its main cities of Johannesburg – the largest and most populous in South Africa, and the provincial capital, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane/Pretoria, the national administrative capital. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the province has become a crucible for the implementation of new thinking in public transport.

Gautrain is now 18 months into construction and progressing on schedule. When complete, it will link Johannesburg, Tshwane/Pretoria and the Oliver R Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) with fast commuter services.

A purpose-designed,  Geographic Information System (GIS)-based Operations Control Centre (OCC) will integrate signalling (with fail-safe back-up), scheduling, contactless e-ticketing at station access gates (passengers will be able to buy smartcards at self-help vending machines), Real-Time Passenger Information (RTPI) displays showing Gautrain and connecting services at and around stations, security surveillance, and constant voice contact with drivers of Gautrain and connecting services, to aid punctuality and maintain connections. Pre-boarding payment and smartcard use will eliminate cash on board and departure delays.

Gautrain, says Vorster, has already proved to be a catalyst in creating a new standard for the country’s entire public transport sector. “It is not only changing the face of transport in the province of Gauteng, but also forcing public transport operators throughout the country to think more innovatively in providing integrated transport solutions”.

Shifted thinking
Overall, he says, the transport debate has shifted decisively towards integration and intermodal transfer, with a typical public transport journey seamlessly making use of a number of modes working together. This will, of course, presuppose a structure very different from that of the country’s currently fragmented networks – themselves a deterrent to wider public transport use.

The Gauteng project, which aims to set the stage for a new era in travel, is being tackled in two phases. The first, including construction of a rail network between ORTIA and  the Sandton business district, north of Johannesburg, is due for completion by May 2010, in time for that year’s 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup; while the second phase will deliver the remainder of the network.

Three of the stadia that will be staging matches are in Johannesburg and Tshwane/ Pretoria. Hosting the competition in South Africa, says Vorster, has pushed transport in general, and public transport in particular, to the top of the county’s political agenda.

He sees Electronic Fare Collection (EFC), in particular – a hot topic given the current plethora of public transport initiatives at both provincial and metropolitan level – as being likely to become one of the main growth areas for the local ITS industry.

Gautrain will integrate with other transport modes including Metrorail, which provides commuter rail services in South Africa’s main population centres; long-distance and inner city taxis; park-and-rides; and a network of modern automatic vehicle location- and RTPI-equipped feeder and distributor buses. These will run on schedules closely geared to Gautrain’s.

They are being introduced to shift commuters to and from Gautrain stations without increasing car usage on secondary roads. These, Vorster points out, also need attention alongside the role of Gautrain in relieving the growing congestion on the major freeways in Gauteng.  Some of the complementary bus services will be BRT-based.

ITS South Africa has recently awarded Gautrain Project Leader and CEO Jack Van Der Merwe with a certificate of recognition for its contribution to the public transport landscape in South Africa. “It is”, says Vorster, “a project of national significance that will provide a world-class transport service, using international standards and best practice. A critical benefit has been its role in getting other transport stakeholders to accept the challenge to innovate and improve their service offerings.”

Bus Rapid Transit
One effect of the project has been to encourage investment in BRT systems; not only in Johannesburg and Pretoria in Gauteng, but also in three other cities – Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth (each of these, again, a FIFA 2010 host city). Those in Johannesburg and Pretoria will be complementary to each other, as well as with Gautrain.

The City of Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya (‘We are moving’) BRT system will form the backbone of its plans to reduce private car use and relieve traffic gridlocks. It will be the main catalyst in achieving a target 70:30 ratio of public to private transport use ahead of 2010.

It will see the introduction of high-frequency services linking the CBD with high-density nodes such as Soweto, Randburg, Sunninghill and Roodeport – covering almost half of the conurbation and carrying 430,000 passengers daily. The buses will travel along dedicated lanes with right-of-way and traffic light pre-emption. The 120-km (75-mile) Phase 1 route will include 150 stops (connecting with feeder bus services, while taxis will also have the opportunity to become part of the system), eight terminals and six depots, and be completed in time for the World Cup.

Electronic Fee Collection
The South African Department of Transport is giving priority to achieving standardisation as the basis for interoperability before too many EFC schemes go live (the Western Cape Province is another authority currently embarking on an integrated ticketing scheme). It has been drafting the necessary regulatory basis for the rollout of EFC across the entire public transport sector.

In Gauteng, bus operator Putco has introduced EFC using a system developed by UK transit technology company Wayfarer Transit Systems, modified to accommodate the South African commuter environment, and installed by South African-owned Questek Transit Technologies (QTT). Putco is using it to monitor and analyse trends in ticket type purchase and levels of route usage.

The implementation results from a period of close consultation between the Southern African Bus Operators Association (SABOA) and the city of Johannesburg in working towards the implementation of EFC across all of its public transport operators.

(At the same time, Putco is testing a satellite positioning-based fleet tracking system, to monitor its vehicle operations and driver behaviour in real time. Not the least important issue is ensuring that buses keep to their planned routes.)

Smartcard-based EFC, using one-way or reloadable cards, is also being rolled out during 2008 on selected minibus taxis, initially on the Johannesburg-Tshwane route which carries 10,000 commuters every weekday and (depending on the calendar of sporting events) up to 14,000 at weekends. Randport-based company SurePaw Technologies is implementing the system for the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco), all of whose 75,000 vehicles are eventually expected to be equipped. Holders of reloadable cards will be able to check their balances using readers installed at the taxi ranks. Drivers can also fill up cashlessly at a designated fuel station.
Linked with the Taxi Recapitalisation Project aimed at replacing ageing 15-seater fleets with custom-designed 18- and 35-seater vehicles, the scheme highlights taxi travel as a more attractive component of the overall public transport mix – all the more so if it succeeds in gaining Government subsidies of the kind already available for commuter buses and trains.

The overall aim, says Vorster, is to create a rebalanced transport system, with Johannesburg’s targeted 70:30 ratio showing the way. “The question for the travelling public should be: ‘Which mode will suit me best today?’,” he says.