Gautrain, and its interface with other public transport modes
October is transport month and the spotlight falls on the transport industry at the 2013 Johannesburg Truck and Bus Show where debate will revolve around transport and related issues.
The advent of Gautrain, the rapid rail link between Johannesburg and Pretoria, with a spur running from Sandton to OR Tambo International Airport, has brought a new complexion to public passenger transport in South Africa. Here, at last, is a world-class service providing passengers with the required degree of safety, reliability and predictability that has encouraged thinking commuters and travellers to give up their cars for a more rational alternative.
The Sandton-OR Tambo International Airport service was inaugurated on June, 8th, 2010, and the Johannesburg-Hatfield “line haul” came into service on August 2nd, 2012, with Rosebank as its temporary southern terminus, pending the resolution of a water seepage problem in the underground tunnel section on the final leg to Park Station. This final section was brought into service on June 7th, 2012, adding the Johannesburg CBD to the functional network, and also facilitating one-point connectivity with the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system, MetroRail’s suburban trains, and PRASA’s national passenger train network.
The level of instant acceptance by a South African public that was said to be unfriendly to public transport was remarkable, with the one millionth passenger being recorded just sixteen weeks after the initial opening, and daily ridership on the North-South line having reached 41 000 passengers within one week of commissioning. This figure has now stabilised at 42 000 passengers using the service on each typical weekday. Measures have been taken to increase service capacity, including bringing forward the start of the afternoon peak, adding additional passenger cars to some trainsets, and increasing train frequencies during selected airport service timeframes. Negotiations around the development of an additional new station at Modderfontein, on the airport line, have commenced. Over the longer term, proposals have been revealed to upgrade the OR Tambo Airport station, add four more stops to the current network, and even extend the service with completely new lines to the east and west of its current axis, although no timeframe for these extensions has yet been announced.
In the modern world, individual transport modes very seldom operate in isolation, and Gautrain is no exception, as it shares direct interfaces with a number of bus operations. Firstly, it has its own 26-route feeder service operating a fleet of 125 Mercedes-Benz O500U 1726 low-floor rigid and articulated buses with air conditioned bodywork by Caio/Busmark from all its stations. There was some initial public scepticism directed towards these operations because of poor patronage, but during the April 2012-March 2013 period, Gautrain buses recorded more than 3½ million passenger trips, which was equal to about ⅓ of all rail passenger trips. Since then, additional routes have been added to the network, opening up further opportunities for bus patronage. Although most of the bus network does not operate over weekends, selected “special” services to popular entertainment, sporting and event venues has broadened the appeal of the Gautrain service and its buses.
Secondly, as mentioned earlier, the underground Park Station terminus fits seamlessly with the surface train and BRT operations servicing that focal point. At Hatfield, in Pretoria, a BRT station is being built adjacent to the Hatfield Gautrain station, which means that the present north and south extremes of the network will each be provided with easy bus rapid transit connections. In the case of the main Pretoria station, Gautrain already shares this overground facility with Metrorail and PRASA services, and at Marlboro, private shuttles connect the service to the light industries in Linbro Park. It seems that a culture of multi-modalism has taken firm root in the Gautrain universe.
Even more importantly, by encouraging a culture of patronage among more affluent South Africans, Gautrain adds huge value to the entire public transport sector. To reap the benefit, however, the operators of bus and other rail services will need to provide a level of service quality compatible with that experienced on Gautrain. A major challenge lies in the introduction of multi-modal ticketing systems, which will do much to encourage a mindset of “seamless service” with the general public. Minibus Taxis are sure to pull against any system which seeks to regulate their fares and the right of drivers to handle cash, but the other, more formal modes, should be more amenable. If the authorities can work their way through these challenges, broader benefits, in terms of reduced traffic congestion on urban freeways and arterial roads, will make the effort worthwhile.
Visitors to the Johannesburg Truck and Bus Show will be able to view the latest technology, developments and bus models from exhibitors such as Irizar, MAN Truck and Bus (SA) (Pty) Ltd, Mercedes Benz South Africa, Marcopolo South Africa, MCV South Africa, Scania South Africa (Pty) Ltd and VDL Bus & Coach South Africa (Pty) Ltd.