A city on wheels: What Accra can learn from Johannesburg’s modern public transport to improve air quality, traffic congestion?

The Rea Vaya bus at one of its stops near Milpark-Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa-In this busy city, Ntsika Gqomfa, a historian and tour guide, relies on South Africa’s first Bus Rapid Transport system-known as the Rea Vaya-daily.

Gqomfa says the Rea Vaya is safe, clean and cheap. His daily commute from his home in Soweto using a taxi – the South African equivalent of Ghana’s “torero” minibuses – to his job at the Constitution Hill memorial complex in central Johannesburg would cost almost double the amount he pays on the Rea Vaya bus.

“The Rea Vaya stop is 700 meters from where I stay so it’s right near[me]. It’s a 5-minute walk and also when it drops me, it drops me right there [at work],” says Gqomfa. “If I had to take a taxi I would have to take two taxis to get to work. Also, I will have to take two taxis from work to home. This is more cost effective.”

Historian and tour guide at the Constitution Hill Memorial Complex in Johannesburg, Ntsika Gqomfa

On a typical day in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, a modern transit system is based on multiple forms of public transport. The “Gautrain” is a public train and bus system that moves people from high residential areas.

Taxis, known in Ghana as “minibuses” and private vehicles use designated lanes designed to allow faster travel for vehicles carrying a higher number of people.

The Rea Vaya is the most recent addition to the puzzle. A special express bus, it moves on designated lanes that private cars cannot use, conveying passengers to their final destinations faster.

The Rea Vaya bus at one of it’s stops near Milpark-Johannesburg

The Rea Vaya BRT was introduced in 2010 as part of an ambitious mission to drive home the image of Johannesburg as a ‘World Class’ city, providing safe and reliable transport during the FIFA World Cup hosted by South Africa that year. Rea Vaya, which translates to “we are going” has since served its purpose of providing a solution to the persistent mobility problems of the nearly 1.5 million transport users in the city.

Today it is serving as the biggest transport intervention for residents in Johannesburg, providing many buses which carry 90 passengers. The bus system carries up to 16,000 passengers on an average weekday.

The Rea Vaya bus is not only decreasing traffic congestion and energy consumption for this major African city of 5 million people, it is also providing a more healthy and environmentally friendly option by reducing vehicle emissions.

On a November morning last year, passengers waited to access the Rea Vaya station. Riders purchased smart cards and loaded them with credit for use on the bus. They swiped for access to the bus stop and then waited for the next bus, which came quickly. Its arrival was announced on a loudspeaker.

The Rea Vaya Park Station Extension in Johannesburg

The bus filled quickly on the short trip across the city. Passengers took the available seating. Others chose to stand with the aid of straps and rails to hold on to. Passengers said the bus was convenient, clean and fast.

“We use the bus so that we can be more punctual,” said Sandile Ncube, a grade 8 student of the Phoenix College of Johannesburg, between stops. “It is faster and safer that walking by foot in the morning. It is more dangerous in the morning than the evening when it’s full of people. From my house to school is 15 minutes by bus,” Ncube told this reporter that he and his friends are happy about the government’s decision to introduce a BRT system because its consistency ensures they are always on time to school.

Isaac Mujinga is an international student from DR Congo studying English at South Africa’s Wits university. He is a big fan of the bus which he was using to travel the 6-minute trip from Braamfontein to Johannesburg. Mujinga said the Rea Vaya bus is an ingenious initiative and is cost-effective.

“Always I take the Rea Vaya bus because it is good for me,” Mujinga said. “I’ve been using it for three months and it’s not expensive. I like it. The taxis cost a lot, others like Bolt(the phone-based car service) are expensive but the bus is not expensive. I’m very happy with the bus system.”