Start of a new era
A new era in commuter travel along the Pretoria-Johannesburg axis started on 1 July when the 80 km Gautrain route between the two cities and all its suburban bus feeder services came on stream, writes UDO RYPSTRA.
Just over a year after the launch of the existing link between Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport, the full Gautrain rail and bus system is finally coming on stream.
Along with it comes a world-class passenger information system with “places of interest” features that can be accessed via computers and smart phones not only to view train time tables, fares and station parking fees, but also bus time tables and bus fares, listings of the nearest bus route and bus stop – all that is required is the input of a cellphone number or street address and the information becomes instantly accessible.
Using this information, commuters wishing to use the Gautrain system can easily compare the cost between the Gautrain system or travelling by car using the new Gauteng E-toll freeway system, whose website also features a hi-tech route and tariff information system, but which is subject to toll tariff revisions.
The dedicated feeder and distribution bus service is a critical part of the Gautrain system as it provides an alternative to cars as a mode of access to Gautrain stations. It is the core of a new long-term, integrated transport plan for the province that aims to integrate the province’s other land-based transport services, including Metrorail, the BRT systems of Tshwane and Johannesburg, and the more far-reaching Putco, municipal (suburban) bus and minibus-taxi services.
The new transport plan is now urgently needed, as the previous plan, compiled in 1970, had expired in December 2010, Gauteng Roads and Transport MEC Ismail Vadi said recently. A special task team was expected to deliver a five-year plan by January 2012 and a 25-year plan by March 2013, conforming with the province’s 2055 goals as envisaged by the province’s Economic Development Department.
Aspects that would be taken into account included human settlement patterns, future growth nodes, two new cities that are planned in the 2055 vision, formalising the taxi industry, and bridging the gap in public transport. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) will be integral to the successful roll out of the plan, according to Vadi.
The Gautrain bus fleet will operate on approximately 36 routes from nine of the ten Gautrain stations, the exception being OR Tambo International Airport.
Powered by Euro 3 engines, the buses will cover nearly 430 km of bus routes and travel nearly 26 000 km every day in areas that are located in a 15 km radius of each station.
The state-of-the-art luxury buses, which have bus stops roughly every 500 m along their routes, have been supplied by Mercedes-Benz South Africa and are based on the well-proven 0500U 1726 chassis for low-entry buses, assembled from knock-down kits on a dedicated assembly line at the East London plant. The bodies and interior were built by Busmark 2000/Caio at its plant in Randfontein, using a high degree of local content.
These buses have a 35 to 45 seat configuration with standing capacity of about 17 passengers and plenty of luggage space. The low-entry design makes accessibility easy for wheelchair users and other physically impaired passengers, young children and the elderly. Every second bus will be fully accessible to special-needs passengers and people with physical disabilities.
The 45-seater articulated buses will be used on high-volume routes, such as the Pretoria central business district.
All the Gautrain-branded buses offer the same level of comfort and luxury as the Gautrain itself, such as comfortable seating, air-conditioning, audio visual security and route (Next stop!) information systems, a low noise level and a smooth ride.
The bus depot is located next to the train depot and operations centre in Midrand, from where the bus system is operated by a subcontractor to the Bombela Concession Company, the builders and operators of the network. This subcontractor is led by Unitrans, the operators of Greyhound, with SPG, a 25% empowerment shareholder in Bombela, also owning a portion of the company. The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) forms part of SPG, which means the bus system has participation from the taxi industry.
In fact, the Gautrain bus system is a dedicated system designed around the rail network and does not compete with the taxi operators, as has been the perception around Johannesburg’s Reya Vaya bus rapid-transit systems. Instead it gets fed – and feeds – minibus and metered taxis.