BRT in crisis at Cresta!
While South Africa is receiving new buses, trains and infrastructure, these can only be useful if they’re managed properly – which they are not.
Public transport is often in the news, usually for the wrong reasons. Thankfully, at any given moment there is a ten- to 25-year “plan” setting out a “strategic framework” to “prioritise public transport”, promising a “radical paradigm shift”, aimed at “improving our quality of life”.
None of these grand plans are of much use to the hapless users of the potentially significant Rea Vaya route C4, linking Johannesburg CBD with Cresta.
Until now, most Rea Vaya routes have involved replacing minibus taxis with buses, but C4 represents an opportunity for car users to leave their cars along the route, get into a bus and take pressure off the roads leading to the CBD.
Sadly, after several months of operation, there is no evidence of this. If this is how better public transport is going to be introduced into car-rich areas, we are going to get poor value for money.
What is going wrong? First, there is no published timetable for the route.
Second, the drivers are allowed only 40 minutes to complete a trip that takes at least 45 minutes. At weekends, the allowance is an impossible 30 minutes … So, from the first trip of the day, buses on the route run late!
Third, no serious attempt has been made to reduce minibus operations on the route. Passengers have a choice of a minibus every 20 seconds, or a BRT bus every 20 minutes! Therefore, several trips on C4 run almost empty, even during the peak.
Fourth, about 40 percent of passengers transfer to the Soweto route T3 at Campus Square, involving a complicated and time-consuming shuffle through two ticket barriers.
Fifth, the route goes all the way into the CBD, duplicating routes T3 and C5, which have spare capacity. The eight buses could offer a more frequent service if they turned around at the University of Johannesburg’s Kingsway campus.
There’s more – on weekends, the service shuts down between 17:00 and 18:00. On Sunday, April 12, a bizarre series of events took place. I was a passenger on bus 563, which left the CBD at exactly 17:00. One would expect the bus to return to the city from Cresta … On arrival at Cresta at 17:40, an altercation took place between the driver and passengers. To my astonishment, the driver told them that he was going to the depot.
Policemen, who had been following the bus in a van (providing security for the BRT buses, but that’s another story) had to be called in to clear passengers who were standing in front of the bus preventing the driver from moving. I reluctantly left the bus and waited in sympathy with these passengers, hoping that at least the other bus on the route, 523, would show up and take them to town. It did, 20 minutes later, but, to my dismay, exactly the same scenario took place. The bus was going to the depot.
This is no way to run a bus service. Here were legitimate passengers trying to make a legitimate trip, at a very legitimate time (17:40), being turned away so that the buses could run empty to book off at Dobsonville Depot, about 15 km away. Instead, they could have returned to the closer Wembley depot in town, used less diesel and carried some passengers in the process.
We certainly need a “radical paradigm shift” in public transport, but first of all it is the way we run it that needs serious attention. New buses, new trains and new infrastructure alone won’t do the job.
Vaughan Mostert is a senior lecturer in the Department of Transport and Supply Chain Management at the University of Johannesburg. He developed a love for public transport early in life, which led to a lifelong academic interest in the subject. Through Hopping Off, Mostert leaves readers with some parting food for thought as he continues his push for change in the local public transport industry.