for harassed commuters johannesburg promises change
Last Updated : GMT 03:38:25
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For harassed commuters, Johannesburg promises change

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today For harassed commuters, Johannesburg promises change

Johannesburg - AFP

For Johannesburg's poor who jostle for crowded mini-bus taxis, as well as drivers stuck in gridlock, the richest city in Africa is promising to change. The city is holding public consultations on a 30-year plan to overhaul transportation for its four million residents, and the four million others who live in its far-flung suburbs. The project's focus is on prioritising public transport, but the public debates have centred on biofuels, installing bike paths, closing certain downtown streets during rush hour and varying working hours. "Our vision for 2040 is a city that supports walking and cycling as important modes of transport," said Lisa Seftel, the city's executive director for transport. It's a goal that strikes some as a bit out of reach. "It's surreal! We proceed as if this city were located in a developed country, in Europe," said one participant at a recent debate, who works in the transport industry but declined to be named. The city's campaign is called "safe streets", referring to vehicular safety. But with South Africa's staggering crime rate, he said the main concern for pedestrians is getting mugged, while cyclists fear their bikes will be stolen, regardless of whether there's a bike lane. Nearly half of all crime in South Africa is committed in Gauteng, the tiny but wealthy province that includes Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria. Only about one third of Johannesburg's residents can afford a car, but those who have one rarely leave their homes without it. For the majority who rely on public transport, they usually pack into mini-bus taxis notorious for bad driving and some times violent turf battles among drivers, with scuffles over fares and routes that can devolve into gun fights. In poor neighbourhoods, commuters walk home along unlit and sometimes unpaved streets that makes them easy targets for robbers. The situation is gradually changing. More and more of the population can afford a car. A new bus line called Rea Vaya links downtown Johannesburg to Soweto with dedicated lanes that bypass the traffic between the city centre and its most famous township. And a $3.8 billion dollar high-speed train opened its main link last month, connecting the city to the airport and to nearby Pretoria. But the improvements don't always work well together. The Gautrain has its own network of feeder buses, that don't link to the existing Metrobus system, which doesn't publicise its routes or fares. The new Rea Vaya buses don't serve the main train station. "There are many simple and cheap things that we can do, especially what concerns information for the public. The problem for passengers is to know where they can go and when," said Rehana Moosajee, a municipal transport official. Colleen McCaul, a consultant who helped with building the Rea Vaya system, warned that it will take "time to put together formal transport in a city where the majority of public transport is made by informal taxis." Part of the vision of the future is smart cards that would work on all the city's public transport systems. In the meantime, the city is planning a more modest step: putting maps at bus stops.

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