Our Journey Has Only Just Begun

MyCiti Sation_Greenpoint_Dec 2012_Lisa Burnell (9)

Linking infrastructure development to social cohesion is central to city’s vision, says Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, managing director of the Cape Town Partnership. Photos courtesy of Bruce Sutherland, City of Cape Town

The recent successful launch of the new phases of the MyCiTi transport system is a further significant milestone in the development of Cape Town as a liveable city. On Monday, 9 May 2011, the West Coast sector of the MyCiTi/Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)  network on the R27 between the Table View and Civic Centre bus stations (or the Table View red trunk route) commenced in a pilot phase between 09h00 and 15h00 daily. On Saturday 14 May 2011, the full trunk service started operating with the buses stopping at all stations along the trunk route. In a landmark moment for the city, the interim inner-city feeder route – the Gardens-Civic Centre-Waterfront route – also began operating. This runs between the Civic Centre and Green Point, the Waterfront, the Loop and Long Street areas and Gardens.

Have we arrived at our destination? Not nearly. This is just the beginning.

By all reports, the new additions to the route have performed well; timeous and pleasant, with efficient service and a clean, future-forward feel. It’s a way of travelling that has excited Capetonians and many early adopters of the system look likely to stay fans.

One has to remember that the Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) initiative is a 15-year project and part of a vision for Cape Town that centres on its future sustainability for the people who live in it. It is also a vision for Cape Town as a future tourism, business and educational centre attracting global investment and intellectual capital.

Sustainability means less pressure on our resources and a real bid to lighten our pollution load in order to preserve our natural resources and make life more liveable for the Capetonians of tomorrow.

Cape Town holds the title of being the South African city with the highest percentage of private car owners. One look at the traffic congestion (that is not only limited to rush hour) gives a clear indication that the pressure of too many vehicles trying to get in and out of the city is not working for anyone.

We are on the eve of an announcement from the committee of the World Design Capital 2014 to hear if we are going to be included on the short list of destinations contending for the 2014 World Design Capital title.

Whether we are in the running or not, compiling the bid to be a World Design Capital has been integral to understanding a new vision for Cape Town, one which sees the design process as a means for transforming lives by reconnecting infrastructural development with the rebuilding of social cohesion. This is not design for design’s sake, but rather a socially minded approach to how design can be harnessed for effective, sustainable living.

A study of World Design Capital 2010, Seoul in South Korea, reveals the perfect example of how design can reposition a city. Once a depressing, polluted and inhuman urban jungle, Seoul is now green and beautiful, and its citizens are measurably happier. This sort of transformative journey is the goal of organisations like the Cape Town Partnership, who see that social cohesion is possible through good project management and social reinvention.

Cape Town’s transport system has the potential to serve all its inhabitants and visitors. Central to this is the already existent and very extensive rail system, which is also the best in the country. How ironic then that the city with the best rail system is also the city with the most private cars.

The key to improving our transport system should start with rail. For too many years now, The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) and Metrorail have let us down by not offering a decent service to its passengers. For many Capetonians (23% of our daily commuters use the rail network) there is no choice between taking a car or using the rail system, because they simply do not have a car.

For those who are sentenced to travel on rail, their daily experience is one of terrible over-crowding, constant security threats and frequent delays to the service. Add to that the stations that are unsafe, unappealing and not coping efficiently with the feeder services that are bringing commuters to its platforms.

Capetonians need to hold these service providers (Metrorail and PRASA) accountable. As citizens, we need to demand more rolling stock, better security, greater service and safer signalisation.

PRASA CEO Lucky Montana recently announced that new trains would be introduced into Metrorail over the next eighteen years but that simply isn’t a fast enough solution for the critically urgent need. We must lobby government for an immediate overhaul of the train system as a matter of top priority. We should do this whether or not we take the train because all of our lives and our community’s wellbeing is being affected by this untenable situation.

Cape Town’s IRT initiative seeks to integrate all modal options into a coherent package for the customer. These modes include: Metrorail services, road-based services on trunk routes, conventional bus services, minibus taxi integration, feeder bus services, improved pedestrian and bicycle access, metered taxi integration, and park-and-ride facilities.

Within the IRT, the BRT system is a high-quality, bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable, and cost-effective urban mobility with segregated right-of-way infrastructure, rapid and frequent operations, and high levels of customer service.

The MyCiTi buses are not intended to replace rail routes, they are there to supplement them. Building more rail routes is prohibitively expensive, in fact, introducing buses rather than rail is typically four to 20 times less expensive than building a tram or light rail transit system and 10 to 100 times less than a rail system.

Recent calls to run the buses parallel to the train routes are counter-productive and a waste of taxpayer’s money. If we are to create the ideal integrated system we should run new public transport routes where currently there are (were) none, as in the case of Tableview, where the population has exploded over the past 20 years. Buses will also complement, but not compete with, inter-nodal exchange points, such as the one at Woodstock.

Capetonians are in the habit of driving their cars everywhere and it will take time for habits to change. Changed habits are often forced by necessity or consequence. In this instance, travelling by car will become increasingly expensive and more time-consuming.

The current phase of the BRT and the introduction of the new routes are still at a sensitive stage. Cape Town’s citizens should perhaps consider it as an experiment still but one that they must and can be part of. Many of the relationships and systems are new; staff are still learning, new partnerships with driver organisation are settling in and logistical snags must still be detected and corrected.

There are still solutions (and opportunities) that will arise. One that is glaringly obvious in the Central City is the need for an appropriate park-and-ride network. The City of Cape Town has not yet unveiled its plans for this but we believe that there is an excellent opportunity for the private sector to respond to this need.

We cannot look at transport as an issue separate to land use or planning either. There is a need for appropriate densification in the city, within a 1km radius of the rail and bus stations. Cape Town is a low density city which leaves us with greater sprawl and therefore greater travelling distances and this must change to heed sustainable and liveable goals into the future.

Cape Town has just been honoured with the accolade of being noted as one of CNN’s Most Bike-Friendly Cities in the World. This exciting affirmation comes off the back of Cape Town’s new bicycle routes and independently produced Cape Town Bicycle Map . The MyCiTi buses also permit passengers to bring their bicycles on board, to allow greater mobility between bus and residential areas, and there are planned lock-up stations for bikes at convenient points.

Once again, cycling and bicycles themselves have the potential to bring new ideas, new employment and new ways of living to the citizens of Cape Town – think bike-friendly shops, restaurants and bars, bicycle service centres and wash stops, bicycle boutiques and networking events for cyclists. The list is endless.

The new bus and cycle routes also mean that it is more accessible than ever to live in the City Centre. We are one step closer to Cape Town’s becoming a centre where students, businesses and residents can live, work and play – a city that functions fully by day and night because of the people in it.

Change is never easy. It means stepping out of our comfort zones and adjusting to the new. We may feel uncomfortable, we may not know the way at first, but in time the change becomes the familiar and you wonder what you did without it before. To begin this journey, we have to be willing to try something new. Hop on the bus and experience a Cape Town of the future, a sustainable, liveable City we can all be proud of.

For more information and for bus route maps visit the City of Cape Town‘s MyCiTi website.

June’s City Views on Cape Town as a liveable city hit the shelves earlier this week. Pick up your free copy to read more about MyCiTi mobility; walking tours of the CBD; local fashion designers Philippa Green, Thulare Monareng and Hanneli Rupert; and to get a few cooking tips from Savoy Cabbage’s Peter Pankhurst.


Back to Top