Johannesburg’s new BRT was praised by international experts, while local players worked to find a common path to road safety and integrated public transport.  The City’s transport department has been inundated with praise for a job well done over Transport Month, which is held nationwide every October to promote road safety and the use of public transport.

“Slowly people are becoming aware of using public transport on a daily basis to ease congestion,” said Lorraine Mapela, the information and safety manager in the department. “There is also an increase in the amount of people at the stations using the Bus Rapid Transit [BRT] system from Soweto to the inner city.”  Transport Month 2009 had the most gains physically regarding public transport – in 2008, there was no Rea Vaya. Metro Bus was continuing to train its drivers, and thus the city was gradually moving forward, said Rehana Moosajee, the member of the mayoral committee for transport.
Activities for Transport Month had been substantially scaled down this year; however, certain events made up for this, such as the Transport Indaba, she said.

The indaba took place at Museum Africa on 23 October and focused on finding short- and long-term solutions for transport problems, with key areas congestion, feedback regarding the Rea Vaya starter service, public transport facilities and the 2010 FIFA World Cupâ„¢.

Moosajee said the City was tremendously pleased with the accolades and positive comments from international experts about its Rea Vaya. One of them was Walter Hook, the executive director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).  The ITDP promotes environmentally sustainable and socially equitable transport worldwide. Hook, according to the ITDP website, has worked in more than 15 countries and 25 cities promoting non-motorised transport and bus rapid transit systems.

He said at the indaba that Joburg’s Rea Vaya bus stations, compared to those found in similar transport networks around the world, were outstanding.  “The Rea Vaya bus stations are world class. One would just want to hang around them. The Rea Vaya vehicles are also world class, with high quality engines that run on low sulphur diesel. They are the cleanest buses in the world.”  He noted that the idea of introducing BRT was mooted about three years ago, and the signs of reinvestment in the city had been showing since the buses began running at the end of August.

Another international expert, Enrique Penalosa, the president of the ITDP, said: “Joburg is on the right track.” He was instrumental in setting up a BRT system in Bogota, Colombia, when he was the mayor of that South American city.  Bogota was one of the City’s case studies when it was designing its Rea Vaya.  “The Bus Rapid Transit system represents one great leap that combines safety and affordability of public transport,” said Minister of Transport Sibusiso Ndebele at the launch of Transport Month. “We have no doubt that as we provide more of these convenient forms of public transport nationally we will have fewer cars on our roads and thus fewer accidents.”

Other highlights in Transport Month, Moosajee said, included events that were not organised by her department per say, but by other organisations. City representatives attended these events, such as the visit to Air Traffic Navigation Services; the launch of Transport Month at Park Station by Ndebele; and the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, a South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) project to improve the conditions of roads in the province.  The Taxi Business Summit was another event on the calendar, organised by Taxi World magazine. It brought together taxi organisations; City representatives; representatives from the BRT; representatives from the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme; members of the finance sector, such as banks and taxi insurance bodies; and vehicle manufacturers to discuss the future of the taxi industry.

Education and school visits with Pedestrian Angel, the transport safety mascot, were important as these targeted the youth in the hope that they could correct the behaviour of their parents, said Moosajee. People needed to change their behaviour and perceptions of the road and start being more courteous. They also needed to obey the rules of the road.  Schools were visited not only during Transport Month but throughout the year.  She added that parents should take responsibility for the safety of their children on the roads, and not expect the government to be held accountable.

Mapela pointed out that Johannesburg had many other campaigns throughout the year to educate people about public transport and road safety.  With the festive season around the corner, the department was running a campaign targeting employees before they left work for the holidays. Shopping malls and public areas would also be targeted as hot spots for officials to speak about safety on roads and the importance of using public transport, she added.

UN initiatives
At the launch of Transport Month, Ndebele said that 3 400 men, women and children were killed each day on the world’s roads while walking, cycling or driving. This totals 1,3 million deaths a year in road accidents.  To give this issue global attention, the United Nations has declared the third Sunday in November World Remembrance Day for all road accident victims.  And the inaugural Global United Nations Ministerial Conference on Road Safety is taking place in Moscow, in Russia from 19 to 20 November.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 60/5 on 26 October 2005, which is committed to improving global road safety. “The world wants to make our roads safer; Africa wants to make our roads safer; South Africa wants to make our roads safer,” Ndebele said.

Road safety
According to Ndebele, South Africa has well designed motorways running between major cities and tourist attractions. “We have over seven million licensed drivers and over eight million registered vehicles in South Africa. Motorised vehicles make up 89,3 percent of the total population and the number increases by six percent annually,” he said in his launch speech.  “The primary contributory factors in fatal crashes or serious injuries include excessive speed, drinking and driving, and the non-wearing of seatbelts.” Light delivery vehicles, minibuses and private cars are the top three types of vehicles involved in accidents. Pedestrians account for half of the fatalities in South Africa.”

Ndebele noted that there were more than 16 000 deaths in South Africa each year in road accidents, which cost more than R14-billion annually. During the Road Safety and Arrive Alive campaign, the Transport Department saw the benefits of visible policing and tight law enforcement.  “Road safety is a necessary condition for us to move from our developing status to being developed because dead people do not enjoy the benefits of development,” he said.