Facing an uncertain future

BRT facing an uncertain future – MEC Ismail Vadi

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Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport, Dr Ismail Vadi, says minibus taxi industry negotiations had slowed further implementation of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in the country. MEC Vadi was speaking on day one of the 2017 Southern African Transport Conference (SATC) held at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria.

“Current BRT ridership is not that great. We have already invested around R15 billion in the system in the three metros, but Gauteng ridership is not more than 75 000 people per day. When fully in place, BRT will comprise 700km of dedicated bus lanes. “We have to ask some serious questions. Should we have gone for something more affordable and more viable? Do we need such fancy stations,” he asked.

“We are spending around R50 million to R70 million on each BRT platform. We must learn from this; we need to increase ridership and reduce costs.” Despite this, the MEC indicated the government was still testing the first phase of the 56km Thembisa to Vosloorus BRT route which would require 56 stations be built.

Gautrain expansion on track

MEC said the process to acquire 12 new train sets for Gautrain was on track, with bidding due to begin next month. Delivering the annual event’s plenary address, MEC Vadi said additional parking bays had been provided at Gautrain’s Rhodesfield and Midrand stations, while more parking facilities were to be completed at the Centurion Gautrain station by August 2017, where 450 bays had recently been completed.

Commenting on Gautrain ridership, MEC Vadi said roughly 63 000 passenger trips were being undertaken daily, with over 80 million passenger trips having taken place since Gautrain’s inception in 2010. He added that 140km of new tracks would be laid in the province in the next 25 years, while 19 new Gautrain stations are being planned. Six of these will be located in Tshwane, three in Ekurhuleni and 10 in Johannesburg.

According to MEC Vadi, the biggest demand for expanded Gautrain routes was in the Randburg/Sunninghill area, followed by Jabulani/Soweto. He said that while the perception of Gautrain was that it primarily served the white minority, research indicated that 60% of the current ridership is in fact black African.

The first phase of the Gautrain expansion is set for completion in 2026, with work set to begin in 2021.

“Gautrain will not run parallel to the Metrorail/PRASA networks, nor would it duplicate its routes. However, we need to integrate Metrorail and Gautrain in the future. Rail has to be the backbone of the public transport system in the Gauteng province,” he stated.  The MEC added that the Whitepaper on Rail is scheduled to be released later this year. The PRASA modernisation programme, meanwhile, will include rolling stock fleet renewal and depot and station modernisation. MEC Vadi said one of the brand new PRASA trains had already been damaged by community protests which had seen rocks and poles placed on rail lines. MEC also announced the commencement of a R3.8 billion re-signalling programme for the passenger rail operator.

Aerotropolis taking off

MEC Vadi said there are big developments happening around the OR Tambo International Airport. This included a Phase 1 cargo development that would comprise general cargo warehouses, express and specialised cargo handling facilities and freight forwarding warehouses, among others. Finalisation of the project was expected in three years. The Aerotropolis Masterplan has also been approved. “The Aerotropolis will transform the economic landscape of the region and has the ability to create 700 000 jobs,” MEC Vadi said. “We see it as a major initiative, but we need collaboration and support from business.” MEC Vadi’s department is also busy with a number of connecting road upgrades. The MEC explained that the Wonderboom Airport had resumed domestic flights to Cape Town, with the facility seen as critical to the country’s automotive sector.

Furthermore, very significant infrastructure upgrades are underway at the Lanseria International Airport. Its runways were recently lengthened and new parking bays are currently in the works. He said there was a huge catchment area of over 11 million people living and working within 50km of the airport.

Tambo Springs

MEC Vadi’s department is looking at commencing construction of the Tambo Springs Intermodal Hub in early 2018, with seven roads nearby identified for upgrades. SANRAL would also have to upgrade parts of the N3. “Tambo Springs has got huge potential for the Ekurhuleni region,” MEC Vadi added. In closing, MEC Vadi cautioned that driverless vehicles and autonomy were going to be major disruptors in the not too distant future. He believes the use of Big Data will assist with transport planning in the future. South Africa, however, is not using it yet. This has led to the department initiating discussions with several Universities and the CSIR, he concluded.

SATC is supported by both the South African Department of Transport (NDoT) and the US-based Transportation Research Board (TRB). The conference will continue until Thursday, 13 July 2017.

To RSVP or for interview requests, please contact me, Morongoa Ramaboa, personally on 083 465 5118 | morongoa@kaeloengage.com or contact Mahlatse Mathabathe on 072 80 98 964 | Mahlatse@kaeloengage.com.

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