Parts of the Johannesburg CBD were gridlocked during peak-hour traffic on Friday as the first day’s testing of the dedicated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system lanes took place.

Much of the congestion happened on the main arterials of Commissioner, Market, Bree, on Wielligh and Sauer streets between 4pm and 5pm.

Motorists who usually drove through the middle lanes to avoid taxis found themselves driving straight into the chaos.

Intersections were crisscrossed by minibus taxis disregarding traffic lights and, in some streets, taxi drivers began pushing aside barricades placed to block off access to the BRT lanes.

At the corner of Rissik and Market streets, a frustrated taxi driver who claimed to have sat in the traffic snarl-up for almost an hour drove into the oncoming traffic to take a turn to another street.

“I cannot take this anymore,” he said pleading with stunned motorists to let him through. “We are going to block off this BRT thing when it starts operating.”

A motorist, John Ndlovu, blamed the authorities for the chaos. “Why are they rushing to close off these lanes before the buses start running?” he asked angrily.

“This is total incompetence by the people we expect to manage our cities. What is the point of closing off the lanes now, because even if I wanted to leave my car at home to take their bus, it is not yet in operation?”

Another motorist said Friday’s gridlock was one of the worst he had experienced in a long time. “At least someone should have dispatched metro police to direct and monitor this situation, given that it is the first day of closing these lanes,” she said.

“This is chaotic. I wonder what will happen when we have visitors here in 2010.”

Johannesburg metro police spokesperson Edna Mamonyane said officers were withdrawn in the morning from patrolling the streets after BRT contractors requested time to finish their work on some of the stations.

“We were supposed to have closed everything completely today,” she said.

“But there were still a few touch-ups that had to be done in some parts of the CBD.”

Mamonyane however insisted that the barricades were left on the middle lanes to sensitise motorists about the need to avoid the dedicated lanes.

“We will start the enforcement, which will include issuing fines of up to R500 to motorists who use these BRT lanes, once the buses start running,” she warned.