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Buses find their way through obstacles

​​​Prof Jackie Walter, head of the Department of Transport and Supply Chain Management at the University of Johannesburg, comments on the BUS rapid transit (BRT) systems.
Published in : BusinessDay, 2011-09-15


Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are likely to remain a feature of SA’s urban landscape for some time and may include new systems in Nelson Mandela Bay and eThekwini.
This is according to the head of the department of transport and supply chain management at the University of Johannesburg, Jackie Walters, whose comments belie the fact that the implementation of BRT operations has been plagued by political interference, labour disputes, planning and capacity problems.
A month-long strike by 250 Rea Vaya BRT drivers has left 35000 people who travel between Soweto and Johannesburg having to seek alternative transport. So far, BRT systems have been set up on routes in Johannesburg and Cape Town, with the Johannesburg network to be eventually extended by up to 300km-325km. The three phases of Cape Town’s BRT are likely to be completed only in 2030.
BRTs have enjoyed considerable success worldwide, particularly in developing countries in more recent years, due to the lower development cost compared with railway systems and the networks’ flexibility. Their other benefit is that BRTs reduce traffic congestion, and lower harmful emissions by taking other vehicles off the road and through the buses’ latest diesel engine technology.
Dario Hidalgo, from a Washington-based global network, EMBARQ: The WRI Centre for Sustainable Transport, says that worldwide, 16 cities started operating BRTs last year , bringing the number of cities with BRTs to more than 120. BRTs transport about 28-million passengers a day, globally. Fourteen of the new BRTs are in developing countries, while seven cities expanded their systems.
Most BRT systems are operated by private companies, through public-private partnerships in developing countries, but experience shows that subsidies are required for the provision of the necessary quality of services, says Mr Hidalgo.
The main reason for the rapid growth of BRT s, particularly last year , was that the cost is one tenth to one third less than constructing a heavy or light railway network, he says.
But problems encountered across the different countries include rushed implementation, too high occupancy levels, early deterioration of infrastructure, insufficient user education, and very tight financial planning .
While BRTs are cost-effective, getting the systems done often proves difficult. This is due to the number of city and other authorities that need to be involved to integrate the network into the existing transport infrastructure. However, national governments are playing an increasingly supportive role within cities, says Mr Hidalgo.
Prof Walters says the problems in SA arose from the challenges of finding an “amicable solution” with the taxis and buses that were operating on the proposed BRT routes. For instance, in Johannesburg, negotiations needed to take place for the owners of 550 taxis to take their vehicles off the road and for them to formalise a new company, PioTrans, that would be involved in operating the BRT.
“My concern is we have been pushing the process too hard. You have to leave time for these discussions. The time taken from planning to implementation of BRTs can be anything from three to five years,” Prof Walters says. In spite of earlier promises that the BRT in Johannesburg would be self-funding, it is likely that subsidies from the national government will be required for BRTs in SA, he says.
At Nelson Mandela Bay, infrastructure for the first phase of the region’s BRT was put in place in time for the Soccer World Cup last year. The municipality is working on “a way forward” for phase two — including the extension of BRT roads to townships and sheltered stops — once governance and other issues are ironed out with the bus and taxi industry representative organisation, a spokesman said.
eThekwini’s Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network Plan envisages an integrated system that includes bus rapid transit, rail, buses, taxis, cycle and public walkways, says city manager Michael Sutcliffe.​
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