At least 143 buses of the expected 2 000 buses government aims to procure for projects around the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup will not be assembled in South Africa - this while the local automotive industry struggles to counter falling sales and rising unemployment.
It is anticipated that this number could rise once Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town announce their winning BRT bidders. Further, government also still needs to release the names of those bus suppliers that will be contracted to provide vehicles specifically for the international football tournament.
The Johannesburg City Council announced at the end of January that the buses required for phase 1A of the Rea Vaya bus rapid transport (BRT) system will be fully imported, but that the buses required for subsequent phases may be assembled locally.
Following an evaluation and a four-and-a-half month procurement process, the City's executive adjudication committee has appointed local arm of Swedish firm, Scania South Africa, to supply, deliver and maintain the 143 BRT buses in a R391-million contract.
Scania will supply the bus chassis, and has partnered with the local arm of the Brazilian firm, Marcopolo South Africa, to provide the bus bodies.
Johannesburg executive mayor Amos Masondo says "although Scania and Marcopolo are able to undertake, assemble and manufacture locally at their plants in Aeroton and Germiston respectively, unfortunately, due to very tight timelines for the delivery of the phase 1A buses, the fleet will need to be imported from Brazil fully built-up".
Rea Vaya BRT project manager Bob Stanway says there remain slightly more than a 100 days before the start of the FIFA Confederations Cup in June 2009, and that the aim is to have phase 1A of the Johannesburg BRT system up and running for this event.
Member of the mayoral committee for transport, Rehana Moosajee, says phase 1B of Rea Vaya will be completed in 2010, with the rest of phase one to follow up to 2013.
"We'll work hard to ensure greater local content here."
Stanway says the Scania-Marcopolo partnership was selected based on the criteria of unit cost, local content, experience, providing for the disabled, and skills development.
The Rea Vaya phase 1A fleet will consist of 102 complementary buses and 41 articulated buses.
The articulated buses will carry 112 passengers (51 seated), with four flip-down seats or, alternatively, space for two wheel chairs.
The complementary buses will have a capacity of 81 passengers (41 seated), plus two flip-down seats, or room for one wheel chair.
Masondo says it is envisaged that the prototype complementary bus will be available for the general public to engage in a look-and-feel process in mid-February.
The Rea Vaya buses will all make use of Euro IV diesel engines, using low-sulphur diesel comprising 50 parts per million of sulphur, as opposed to Euro III, which is the minimum standard recommended in government's national BRT specifications.
Euro IV specifications will produce less pollutants compared with Euro III engines.
"The city investigated the best option in order to make the best contribution to the environment," says Stanway.
"There was close competition between the Euro IV diesel engine and ethanol, but the ethanol propulsion system lost owing to the food debate, and the performance of this engine at high altitudes such as Johannesburg."
Ethanol is a biofuel largely produced from corn, sorghum, and wheat, and its increase in popularity in recent years has raised questions globally about food security should these crops be used to produce fuel, rather than find their way to dinner tables.
Scania South Africa MD Christoffer Ljungner says his company has delivered more than 1 300 BRT buses globally, and that the Scania product "is well-proved".
Masondo says Scania still has to explore an empowerment deal with the phase 1A operator(s).
"We expect it to engage in discussions with all the relevant parties to structure an empowerment business that will be responsible for the supply and maintenance of the buses.
"We anticipate that the empowerment structure will provide current operators with the opportunity to participate fully in the BRT system. This includes employment, as well as the enhancement of skills."
Part of the procurement process includes a proposal for the phase 1A bus operator(s) to enter into a three-year full-maintenance contract with Scania for all 143 buses, adds Masondo.
The bus operator also has the option to bring his/her own mechanics and technicians into the maintenance contract.
Who exactly this bus operator(s) will be remains unclear, with Masondo only saying that negotiations are ongoing.
The city has previously stated that it envisage current transport operators, such minibus taxi and bus operators, to form operating companies to run the BRT system.
Taxi operators have, however, stated their dissatisfaction with the BRT system publicly - despite two taxi bodies signing a memorandum of understanding with the city - noting that it will threathen their livelihood.
HERE WE GO The articulated bus to be used in phase 1A - See attached