Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT)

With the 2010 World Cup looming ever nearer, people are wondering whether the country, and in particular Jo’burg, is going to be ready to handle the influx of tourists with our new transport systems. Gautrain seems to be moving on but what about the BRT, which is supposed to support it?

BRT is an urban transport network that will feed into, and complement, existing networks ensuring the most effective movement of people across a city. It is used in other developing countries and by introducing it to Jo’burg and other cities such as Cape Town, Tshwane and the Nelson Mandela Metro South Africa should soon have a world-class system.

I wanted to find out how accessible the system will be. Their user-friendly website, www.reavaya.org.za, has technical data but schedules and ticket prices will only be posted once the system is running, so I went along to the City’s Rea Vaya BRT External Advisor meeting for answers.

The BRT aims to provide a fast, high quality, safe and affordable transport system. It is comprised of large, high-tech buses which transport you along designated routes with enclosed bus stations and a high-tech control centre. Buses will run in dedicated lanes in the centre of existing roads. Smaller, feeder, buses will bring people from the outer areas to stations on the trunk routes thus extending the network to areas far beyond the main trunk routes. Buses will operate between 5am and midnight from about 150 stations, positioned half a kilometre apart and arriving every three minutes at peak times and every 10 minutes at off-peak times.

The network will feed into and complement existing networks such as Metrorail and the Gautrain with some stations situated alongside the ones of the Gautrain.

Stations - These will be constructed off-site in a modular form. The first Rea Vaya prototype station at Joubert Park opened in November 2008. It is being tested for ease of use especially for those living with disabilities. 

Terminals - Routes end at terminals where buses to turn around and drivers are changed. Feeder services link in here for commuters to transfer to the main trunk services.

Trunk Buses - Articulated buses seating 112 passengers will travel on designated median-lane trunk routes. Doors are on the right side of the bus as they will only pick up passengers from stations on the trunk routes.

Complementary Buses – Doors on both sides to pick up passengers at Rea Vaya stations and kerbsides with a capacity of 75 passengers.

Well this all looks great, but how will it affect us – people with mobility impairments? Rehana Moosajee, the City’s MMC for Transportation, is positive: “Until now, it has been a battle for many people with disabilities to get to work, meetings, shops, the doctor and hospitals. Rea Vaya will make it easier to travel in and around the City independently.”

Moosajee also explained that Rea Vaya will cater for commuters using wheelchairs, as well as the visually and hearing impaired, the elderly and pregnant women.

A universal design architect worked with the BRT station architects to provide a transit system that will accommodate everyone. “Numerous features have been added to the station design. For example, to ease the way for people in wheelchairs, the access ramps and crossings to the stations will be evenly paved with a ramp gradient conforming to universal disability guidelines. Station ramps will also have a landing area halfway up, providing a resting place for people with mobility problems, including the elderly and pregnant women. There will also be level boarding from the stations to the buses,” says Moosajee.

There will be handrails on either side of the ramps, rest rails in the stations and ticket booth windows will be lower to accommodate people in wheelchairs. The booths are also designed with enough space to enable people in wheelchairs to work there.

The City also plans to conduct an independent audit at the prototype station to further improve measures for people with disabilities. “Each complementary bus will have at least one wheelchair position and a kerb-side lift, while each articulated bus will have level boarding and cater for two wheelchairs.” says Moosajee. Push buttons will also be installed to enable passengers to alert the driver if they require more exit time.

“Finally, preferential seating will be offered with the first eight seats in every bus allocated to people with disabilities,” she says.

I am waiting to tour the prototype station at Joubert Park and will report back to you on that but I already have some serious questions.

Once you have disembarked from this accessible system, how do you get onto the pavement on the other side of the street? And how do you arrive safely at your destination? I put this to Aileen Carrigan, the project manager, and she assures me that they are working with the City’s Planning and Development Department in order to address these issues. They will be looking at making surrounding areas safer and more user-friendly for everyone.

Rea Vaya’s BRT will be rolled out in phases:

Phase 1b will be ready for the FIFA 2010 Soccer World CupPhase 1A, in time for the 2009 Confederations Cup, will cover 25.5 kms and have 20 stations. Full Phase one should be completed by 2013Phase 1B, (pictured left) will be completed in time for the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup and will cover 86 kms and have 102 stations. 

The Full Phase 1 (pictured right) is scheduled for completion in 2013, will cover 122kms and have 150 stations. It will be made up of seven routes: Yellow – from Lenasia to Sunninghill; Grey – from Jabulani to Alexander; Red – from Baragwaneth to Ellis Park; Maroon – from Orlando to Sandton;

Green – from the Jo’burg CBD to Randburg; Blue – from Dobsonville to Eastgate and Orange – from Sandton to Alexandra.

I am quite excited about the Vea Raya Bus Rapid Transit system and hope that it will be rolled out in time (starting date end May 2009) and delivers full access to persons with disabilities - so watch this space for updates!

In the meantime – happy, safe travels

Columnist Photos