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TRANSPORT: It's The IRT, For Better Or Worse


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WHILE opinions differ on how this should be achieved, Cape Town’s citizens mostly agree that public transport systems are in dire need of improvement and integration. Thus, when plans were announced to establish an integrated transit system (IRT), based mainly on bus rapid transit (BRT), in 2008 there was general support for the concept. National government supported the idea and provided substantial sums of money to the major cities in South Africa for the introduction of IRT systems, in many cases in the hope of having these at least partially completed in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup event.

Industry experts and existing operators in Cape Town had their doubts; would there be job losses, could the City afford it, would it be ready for the World Cup event, was it possible for such a system to operate without subsidy as the consultants had persuaded the treasury?

Furthermore, some experts believed that the model adopted for Cape Town was unrealistic. International consultants, with BRT expertise in cities such as Curitiba and Bogotà, seemed to be imposing the South American model on Cape Town.

Experts argued that BRT is not a product you buy off the shelf, adopt the attractive characteristics and transplant it to a completely different context from the original environment. South African cities, they said, differ widely from South American cities.

Cape Town’s population density is much sparser than that of Curitiba or Bogotá. South American cities do not contend with urban sprawl that negatively impacts on bus running times and leads to lower asset utilisation and increased operational costs.

In Bogotá, they said, the average trip length is a practical seven km, while in Cape Town it is 20 to 25 km, while the journey from Atlantis to Cape Town covers 67,4 km, leading to much longer running times.

Cape Town’s IRT implementation was beset with problems almost from day one. Negotiations with taxi operators did not run smoothly, Golden Arrow, current holders of the operating permits for most metropolitan bus routes, objected to various aspects of the business plan, and the cost of Phase 1A (a trunk service to and from the airport, an inner city feeder service and a service between the City and Atlantis, passing through Table View and Dunoon, with feeder services) escalated from the envisaged R1.45 billion to R3.5 billion causing the first phase to be scaled down to only go as far as Table View.

As it stands now, the airport shuttle and the inner city feeder service, now named the MyCiTi service, are in operation with the airport shuttle normally carrying only one or two passengers per trip. Introduction of the Table View leg, originally envisaged for the end of March was postponed by approxi-mately two months because negotiations with all role-players have still not been concluded.

In February, when the City recommended to the mayoral committee that the original business plan should be amended to allow for a third operator – Golden Arrow – there was an outcry from the Peninsula Taxi Association (PTA), the first interim operating company to have been appointed to provide World Cup services. ANC aligned members of the mayoral committee walked out of the meeting and Golden Arrow was accused of ‘holding the City to ransom’.

Billions have been invested in the project and, while the model may be imperfect, IRT in Cape Town is a reality. Phase 1A will substantially improve public transport between the West Coast and the CBD and deliver much needed relief to commuters in the area. Cape Town mayor, Dan Plato, says the City is committed to making it work.

Given the vast amounts of money that have already been invested in new buses and expensive infra-structure, it is incumbent on all role players to negotiate in good faith to the benefit of the citizens of Cape Town. The IRT cannot be wished away.

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