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Cablegate: Johannesburg's Two Billion Rand Bus Rapid Transit System

VZCZCXRO6078
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHJO RUEHMA RUEHMR RUEHPA RUEHRN RUEHTRO
DE RUEHSA #2478/01 3370740
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 030740Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY PRETORIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0449
RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZO/AFRICAN UNION COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PRETORIA 002478

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EEB/TRA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EINV ELTN SOCI SF PREL PGOV
SUBJECT: JOHANNESBURG'S TWO BILLION RAND BUS RAPID TRANSIT SYSTEM
FALLING SHORT OF EXPECTATIONS

REF: A. 09 JOHANNEBURG 17
B. 09 DURBAN 37
C. 08 PRETORIA 737

1. (SBU) Summary. Emboff tested Johannesburg's new Bus Rapid
Transit (BRT) System, the Rea Vaya, on November 20. The Rea Vaya
was launched on October 20, to improve public transport
infrastructure and alleviate traffic gridlock in South Africa's most
congested and economically productive city. The Rea Vaya is
intended to complement other initiatives to improve public transport
infrastructure ahead of 2010 FIFA World Cup (reftels). The SAG
hopes to increase public transport utilization to 70 percent
eventually. The Rea Vaya is struggling to gain commuter acceptance,
and in the past several weeks has received a swath of negative press
for its myriad of problems. The Rea Vaya, opposed from the very
beginning by the local taxi (minibus) industry, announced the
closure of its feeder routes in November due to insufficient
passenger demand and inadequate marketing. With the World Cup less
than 200 days away, the SAG cannot afford continued negative press
for the Rea Vaya or for the R2 billion ($270 million) project to
fail. Tourists and commuters could have difficulty moving around
Johannesburg, which is hosting multiple World Cup matches as well as
the opening and closing ceremonies, without a reliable and widely
used public transport system. End Summary.

------------------
BRT IMPRESSIVE AT
FIRST GLANCE, BUT
DEMAND REMAINS LOW
------------------

2. (U) Emboff spent approximately three hours riding along the Rea
Vaya's main bus route, from Johannesburg's Ellis Park stadium
(hosting World Cup matches and near the Central Business District)
through the city's main business and commercial districts toward
Soweto (South Western Township). The majority of riders were black
commuters. A one-way ticket on the 25 kilometer route costs R5
(about 70 cents). The Rea Vaya stations and buses operate at
current international standards. The main bus stations are serviced
by helpful attendants, and purchasing tickets at the main stations
was usually quick and easy. Some BRT bus stations did not have
signs indicating the routes or the scheduled pick-up times, but the
BRT attendants were typically available to answer any questions.

3. (SBU) The buses have a total capacity of 112 passengers, but were
on average 25 percent full. A spokesman for the BRT said about
16,000 commuters use the BRT's main route, well below the 70,000
expected. One leading newspaper proclaimed, "the buses failed to
put bums on seats," citing difficulty buying tickets and poor
marketing of the service, routes, and schedules. Fear of violence
from competing minibus drivers, and crime in general, is another
deterrent. Other press reports have suggested that BRT ridership
remains low because of Johannesburg's sprawling nature and the fact
that many commuters still find minibus taxis - even if unsafe - the
most convenient point-to-point transportation.

------------------------
CONFLICT WITH LOCAL TAXI
INDUSTRY A CONCERN
------------------------

4. (SBU) One cause for low commuter demand is ongoing opposition
with the local taxi (minibus) industry, which believes the BRT
system would cut their market share. Commuters are afraid to use
the Rea Vaya out of fear of violent confrontations with taxi
drivers, who currently provide the overwhelming majority of local
transportation in South Africa. According to one Rea Vaya station
Qtransportation in South Africa. According to one Rea Vaya station
manager and former taxi driver, the real reason for the closure of
some of the feeder routes was the risk of conflict with cartel-like
taxi bosses. He said many people were scared to ride the buses in
these areas because they did not want to be seen by taxi drivers as
siding with the BRT system. There have been several incidents of
violent actions against the Rea Vaya, including shootings by taxi
drivers. The taxi industry launched violence-plagued protests in
early 2009 in opposition to the BRT system, but was ultimately
calmed by President Zuma and other SAG officials who have said that
the taxi industry will receive an ownership stake in the BRT system.
No significant security incidents have been reported in the press
since the feeder routes were discontinued.

5. (SBU) Security personnel patrolled two of the approximately 15
bus stations visited by Emboff. Buses operating in their designated
BRT lanes were often cut off and stopped by minivan taxis picking up
their clients. One Rea Vaya driver claimed the taxi drivers do this
on purpose to slow bus routes. Some of the bus station attendants
and drivers told Emboff that they were former taxi drivers. Rea
Vaya officials claim that some 75 former taxi drivers now worked for

PRETORIA 00002478 002 OF 002


the BRT because of better pay and reduced stress. One bus driver
said he was trained by Rea Vaya officials to be patient with
aggressive taxi drivers.

6. (SBU) During an inspection tour of World Cup legacy projects,
which included a Saturday, October 31, ride on the Rea Vaya, Deputy
President Motlanthe pronounced the BRT a safe, reliable, and
affordable public transport option. His statement was meant to
counteract the negative publicity the Rea Vaya has received since
its launch.

-------
COMMENT
-------

7. (SBU) SAG pleas for commuters to use the BRT system clearly
indicate the importance government has placed on the costly Rea
Vaya. Tourists and commuters could have difficulty moving around
Johannesburg, which is hosting multiple World Cup matches as well as
the opening and closing ceremonies, without a reliable and widely
used public transport system. Nonetheless, legitimate fears of
crime hamper all public transit in South Africa and will remain a
challenge for Reya Vaya to overcome.

8. (SBU) A failure of the BRT could reflect badly on the South
African Government and the ruling ANC, which trumpeted the system as
a solution to transportation woes in Johannesburg, as well as Cape
Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth. At a time when the government is
making a push for improved service delivery and better use of
government funding, any failure of public transit will leave the ANC
open to criticism. The city's other key transport project -- the
much vaunted Gautrain (light rail/subway) -- will connect
Johannesburg's central district to Pretoria and OR Tambo
International Airport and will be phased in between 2010 and 2011.
However, that system bypasses many of the townships that most rely
on public transportation. Much of the Gautrain will also not be
operational for the World Cup.

GIPS

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