Phase 1A of Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya bus rapid transit (BRT) system should carry around 42 000 people a day, while it had been expected that Phase 1B, rolled out last year, would add another 60 000 daily passengers.
However, the entire system was currently carrying only 35 000 people per weekday, on average, said Rea Vaya finance and administration director Brendan Petersen this week, speaking at the Southern African Transport Conference, in Pretoria.
“This is much lower than anticipated”, and was “not economically efficient” when considering only transport, and not social benefits.
If one looks at the time period November 2013 to June 2014, the Gautrain transported 48 000 people on average on a weekday, with minibus taxis moving one-million passengers a day, said Petersen.
“Are we getting value for our money?”
Government had invested around R4-billion in the Rea Vaya bus system to date.
Petersen said it had been important to the city to consider a number of questions, through a sustainability study, before the planned roll-out of Phase 1C in 2017.
The original objectives of the Rea Vaya system were to provide a fast, safe and reliable public transport system; formalising the minibus taxi industry through its participation in Rea Vaya; ensuring spatial restructuring and integration, with the poor able to move around the city; ensuring a shift to public transport; mitigating climate change; and ensuring Johannesburg became a more competitive city.
However, certain challenges had emerged in the operation of phase 1A and 1B.
For one, the real cost of operating Rea Vaya became clear, said Petersen.
For example, the costs of station and travel-way maintenance were high, as were the price tag on staffing the stations, fuelled by passengers’ security concerns.
The city also realised that the system would need operational subsidies for most of the 12-year operating contracts.
The cost of automatic fare collection was high, while it also became clear that the stations were not “fare-evasion proof”, noted Petersen.
The introduction of a bank-based card as payment method, with loading fees, saw a “significant reduction” in passenger numbers, said Petersen. However, some of these passengers had now returned to the system, he added.
“Our passengers are very sensitive to any small fare increases.”
Fare-evasion happened through a system whereby passengers left the station in free flow. Now, however, passengers tapped their cards through a turnstile to leave, similar to the situation when they entered the station.
Strikes also saw passengers leaving the system, returning only two, three months later.
The sustainable study on Phase 1C investigated a few scenarios, Petersen explained.
It considered not building Phase 1C; rolling a BRT system out similar to Phase 1A and 1B; improving and extending Phase 1C; or moving to light rail.
A number of indicators were considered, such as safety, basic accessibility, system efficiency, security, economic viability, resource consumption and air quality.
The city pertinently asked how operating costs could be covered by fare revenue, said Petersen, also considering options such as advertising at the stations.
The outcome of the study was that Phase 1C should be improved and extended from the original planning.
The original plan was for Phase 1C to go to Alexandra and Sandton. However, the extended Phase 1C would now go to Ivory Park, Midrand, Sunninghill and possibly Randburg, in an effort to secure more passengers.
It was expected that the new extended Phase 1C could add 200 000 passengers a day.
Petersen expected Phase 1C to start operations in early 2017.