According to South Africa’s former Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin, “BRT first began in Johannesburg precisely in order to find a transformational way of running a modern bus service from Soweto to the Johannesburg central business district in a way that was inclusive of existing minibus operators.”
Implementing a successful BRT in South African conditions presented many unique challenges. But with years of both technical and advocacy support from ITDP, the silver-standard Rea Vaya BRT system opened successfully in August of 2009. Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya was South Africa’s first major initiative to redress apartheid’s legacy of racial town planning. Connecting historically black townships in the south with the central business district and Johannesburg’s white suburbs in the north, Rea Vaya provides a quick, safe, and comfortable alternative to the dangerous and uncomfortable minibuses (known as “minibus taxis”). Johannesburg has since opened Rea Vaya’s Phase IB corridor in 2013 and by 2016 is expected to open Phase IC, which connects downtown Johannesburg to the Alexandra township.
In addition to the technical support provided for the build-out of Rea Vaya, ITDP also played an instrumental role in the taxi industry transition, which successfully transformed the city’s informal bus operators into successful BRT operators. The transformation has helped not only to quell the violence of an industry fearing obsolescence, but has also brought a historically disadvantaged industry into the formal sector.
Finally, since the implementation of Rea Vaya Phases IA and IB, ITDP has begun working with the City of Johannesburg to change the land use around Rea Vaya stations to be mixed use, pedestrian-friendly environments. Today, much of the development in Johannesburg is single use, set back from the street and fenced in to keep out crime. Walking even short distances is limited to people who cannot afford to drive. Much of the urban life today happens in shopping malls.
With a grant from the Ford Foundation, and a mandate from Mayor Parks Tau to build high-quality transit-oriented development (TOD) on the Rea Vaya “Corridors of Freedom,” ITDP is working with the City of Johannesburg to design and build a gold-standard TOD around one or more Rea Vaya stations. A successful TOD in Johannesburg has the potential to demonstrate to the people of Johannesburg that it is possible to live without fences, walk to dinner, and get right onto Rea Vaya, without fear of crime or the need for a car.