On a typical weekday in Durban, 25 percent of public transport users travelling by bus leave as early as 5 a.m. to arrive at their destinations on time, taking into account the intervals in bus schedules that cause a lengthy wait. This is according to the eThekwini Transport Authority Integrated Transport Plan Update 2010-2015.
Public transport forms an integral part of economic growth, allowing locals and tourists access to more facilities and places of recreation, thereby expanding opportunities for trade. In eThekwini, transport upgrades for the 2010 Fifa World Cup saw the improvement of road conditions, the railway service and pedestrian walk-ways. The extension of freeways in the airport vicinity as well as the addition of a public transport lane in the CBD has helped ease the flow of traffic considerably. The city has also become more pedestrian-friendly with wider, revamped pavements, adding to the aesthetic appeal.
The bus service, however, saw no major upgrades except for the introduction of the “People Mover” in 2009 – a service operating exclusively in the CBD and beachfront area. There are currently 400 bus operators in the eThekwini district, made up of both subsidised and unsubsidised buses. One of the main operators Durban Transport, has, over the years, experienced many disruptions to service, making it unreliable for daily commuters who depend on this mode of transport.
If the eThekwini Municipality is to fulfill its vision of elevating Durban’s status to becoming “Africa’s most caring and liveable city” by 2030, the implementation of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is a necessary undertaking. And such a system is in the pipeline. The city is building a BRT system, the Go! Durban project. It is an eco-friendly development that will help to reduce the number of motor vehicles on the city’s roads by providing “up to 85% of all residents in Durban access to safe, affordable and good quality, scheduled public transport.” Phase one is currently underway and involves the construction of the first ‘corridor’ running from the industrial area of Pinetown, west of Durban, towards Bridge City in the north. This is expected to be completed by 2018, with the entire system fully implemented by 2030.
Aside from benefiting commuters, the Go! Durban BRT also aims to work in partnership with existing public transport operators, specifically mini-bus taxis and railway services. The eThekwini Municipality signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Taxi Industry in February 2014 to address the concerns of those affected by the construction of the bus routes, as well as include them as stakeholders in the project.
The BRT will include the smartcard method of payment, whereby commuters purchase and register ‘Muvo’ cards, preloading the necessary funds for at least 10 trips to avoid the physical exchange of cash on board, for safety reasons.
Like other Durban residents, I’m looking forward to using the BRT. In my experience of using the MyCiTi BRT system in Cape Town last year, I found the service to be safe, efficient and easily accessible. After reading about the system online, I purchased a Myconnect card from a convenience store. Unlike Go! Durban’s Muvo card, registration or proof of ID was not required and the card came with a preassigned pin number.
The bus arrived promptly on schedule, offloading and boarding passengers with minimal fuss. The smartcard payment system was indeed convenient; I simply tapped my card against the ‘validator’ upon entering the bus, which beeped to confirm that R6,80 had been deducted from my funds. I then took my seat in the bus which was surprisingly almost full, given that it was an off-peak hour on a weekday. The apparent demographic diversity of commuters, ranging in age, race, and class, confirmed that this service is rightly inclusive of all citizens. After 17 stops, including the change-over at the Civic Centre to a second bus for the latter half of my journey, I arrived at my destination, the V&A Waterfront, in 45 minutes. Traveling with the MyCiTi buses at night was just as safe and efficient, with my only fear being the walk from the bus stop to where I was staying.
Despite the BRT system being a progressive step toward improving public transport in South Africa it is not without its challenges. Recently, MyCiTi bus drivers who form part of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) have taken to striking against their employer, Transpeninsula, over poor working conditions. Transpeninsula has since approached the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) to help resolve matters. In Johannesburg, service of the BRT system “Rea Vaya” was suspended in early February when 160 of the 225 bus drivers abandoned their posts without prior warning, regarding a lack of payment in previous months. The company is currently recruiting replacements.
A well-functioning BRT system would greatly improve the standard of public transport in the eThekwini district, particularly for commuters who are currently subjected to a system that has deteriorated over the years. It will be the responsibility of bus operators to ensure that this service is well-maintained with satisfactory working conditions for bus drivers to avoid disruptions such as those currently experienced in the Cape Town and Joburg BRT systems.
Rolan Gulston is an editorial intern at UrbanAfrica.Net. She is based in Durban, South Africa, and is a graduate of the UKZN Centre for Communication, Media & Society (CCMS). She is an aspiring journalist, hoping to make a meaningful contribution in the field of development communication with a particular interest in satire.
Image: Phase one of the Go! Durban BRT system is currently under construction. Rolan Gulston.
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