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Feb 08, 2013

Gautrain passenger numbers tick up, but below initial estimates

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The Gautrain system is currently carrying around 40 000 train passengers, and between 14 000 and 16 000 bus passengers a day, says Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) CEO Jack van der Merwe.

This is up from 34 000 train passengers and 12 000 bus passengers a day in January 2012.

“We currently see around 1% to 2% growth a month.”

The GMA previously stated that it aims for the Gautrain to move more than 100 000 passengers a day by 2016.

This, however, may turn out to be easier said than done, as ridership behaviour has not been what the Gauteng province anticipated during the planning phase of the rapid rail system, linking Pretoria, Johannesburg and OR Tambo International Airport.

When the Gauteng province project team initially predicted the possible points of departure and arrival of Gautrain passengers – with these models also evaluated by the University of Leeds, in the UK – it was anticipated that the average ride length would be around 30 km, notes Van der Merwe.

The reality is that it is closer to 50 km.

Van der Merwe says this means the Gautrain is able to carry fewer passengers than original planning indicated, as seat churn is limited.

However, a longer ride does mean more reve- nue from a single passenger.

“The reality is that trip lengths do not match our planning.”

Another discrepancy between initial planning on the project and reality is that Midrand station, halfway between Pretoria and Johannesburg, is yet to turn into a destination station.

Old Mutual Property Investment’s multibillion-rand mixed-use development in Midrand, Zonk’izizwe, planned for next door to the Gautrain station, is yet to materialise.

Longer passenger trips have seen the Gautrain short of capacity during the morning and afternoon peaks, says Van der Merwe.

This means the Bombela Operating Company (BOC), which operates the Gautrain, has already been forced to introduce additional capacity during these peak periods by increas- ing train lengths from four cars to eight on almost 50% of the trains.

BOC may increase capacity further by increasing the coach numbers on more trains, and by reducing the headway between trains from the current 12 minutes during peaks, thereby running more trains every hour.

“Our contract with BOC says peak-hour headway has to be 10 minutes by 2015, but this can happen earlier,” says Van der Merwe. “The concession agreement between government and BOC has formulas that determine that capacity has to be increased when demand exceeds supply by a certain percentage.”

Does the first trigger lie in the start of tolling on Gauteng’s highways later this year?

Van der Merwe anticipates that this move could add 5 000 to 7 000 daily passengers to the Gautrain system.

“During the toll protests in 2012, we carried 45 000 train passengers a day.”

Van der Merwe says he is happy with the general performance of the Gautrain. However, he would like to see more people use the rapid rail link during off-peak periods. He would also like to see increased use of public transport in general. The Gautrain and bus rapid transit systems could also improve planning and share more passengers, he suggests.

The Gautrain is a public–private partnership between the Gauteng government and the South African-Canadian-French BOC.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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