Corridors of frustration

Corridors of frustration

Johannesburg’s BRT system – we need it to be 100 percent perfect …

According to the recent C40 Mayors Summit in Sandton, bus rapid transit (BRT) is a major action in combating climate change. I am not convinced. Since the introduction of BRT in some parts of Johannesburg, the journey time for motorists has increased by at least five to ten minutes along many stretches of road. While I have no problem with punishing motorists by slowing them down, the introduction of eco-friendly BRT buses is probably being cancelled out by the extra emissions from the slower traffic caused by the BRT lanes.  

But, enough about emissions and congestion. What kind of service is BRT giving us? More BRT expansion has taken place in Johannesburg in recent weeks. Some routes might have potential, but others will turn out to be hopeless – most of the “F” routes fall into this category and will need to be reorganised.

As more routes come on stream, a number of niggles have emerged. One of them is that transferring from one route to another is a hassle. That didn’t bother the authors of the more than 800-page BRT “bible” produced by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) which pronounces as follows on page 379: “It is the ease of transfers and the multiple travel options that sets BRT apart from conventional services”.

Try telling that to anyone who wants to travel from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) to Cresta. It involves travelling one stop from UJ to Campus Square on trunk route T3. Then you get off at Campus Square to wait for the C4 bus to Cresta, travelling in the opposite direction. At Campus Square each direction of travel has its own separate ticket barrier, so to avoid checking out and checking in again (thereby paying twice), the security guard will escort you through the turnstiles. Then you wait. And wait. After 24 minutes I was still standing within sight of UJ, waiting for the connection. Even on my wonky legs I could have walked halfway to Cresta by then!

Long waits for connections are nothing new. On Saturday, February 22, it took 38 minutes for a C4 bus to arrive at Library Gardens East. This exactly equals the previous record set four years ago at Thokoza Park, waiting for a T1.

Another problem with Johannesburg’s BRT is the large number of one-way stations in the central area, due to the one-way street layout. There are no less than ten of them in the CBD and another eight or so outside the CBD. This means that transfers will be possible in one direction only. You can transfer from a T3 to an eastbound T1 but not from a westbound T1 to a T3. “Multiple travel options” will remain elusive under these conditions. Travelling from Ellis Park to the SABC requires two changes of bus – hardly likely to attract car users.

The potential of the system is also being undermined by poor communication with passengers. The website gives no details of the timetable for most of the new routes introduced this year. It does, however, refer to “paper tickets” which were replaced by smartcards over six months ago. Bus information at stations is either misleading or incomplete. Compared with MyCiti in Cape Town, which has a website containing 115 pages of timetables (total overkill!), Johannesburg’s effort is pathetic.

There isn’t much hope for BRT unless it is fully integrated with Metrobus and the underperforming Gautrain feeder buses. Sadly, the Johannesburg City Council has decided to waste yet more time and money on consultants to provide advice on how BRT and Metrobus should cooperate in future.

There have been enough suggestions made to the City Council over the years (that should have been implemented by now) which have been ignored. This exercise amounts to wasteful expenditure. Why employ consultants to do what the City’s management is paid to do? The Auditor-General should pick up this type of thing, but don’t hold your breath.

And, to follow through with a point made in an earlier column; where are Johannesburg’s two major universities in all of this? Busy with “research”? Doing “mickey mouse” surveys? Apart from operating expensive inter-campus shuttle services that largely duplicate those of BRT and the Gautrain feeders, the academic world is nowhere to be found. By producing students who know nothing about how public transport is supposed to operate, our universities are actually doing the community a disservice.

Now that the election is approaching, at least one political party is waking up to the benefits of better public transport. According to The Star (February 7), a spokesman for a party emphasised that there was “a need for BRT buses to be introduced in most of the suburbs to allow private vehicle owners to use them to come to work”. Guess which political party this is? Clue: the same people who park their cars in the busway!

So there we have it – instead of “corridors of freedom”, we have corridors of frustration!


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.

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