BRT systems enhance bus efficiency through segregated bus lanes, designs that make boarding and exiting buses quick, bus priority at intersections and effective coordination at stations and terminals.
According to the Department of Transport, the concept of a modern Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) is critical to the success of South Africa's transport systems. Local transport cannot work if it does not incorporate a good bus service that is accessible, affordable and attractive to a broad range of people across society.
In line with this thinking, Tshwane’s BRT system is a high-quality, customer-oriented bus service that delivers fast, comfortable and low-cost urban mobility. Integrating road transport with rail, its primary objective is to move large volumes passengers from all walks of life – including school children, workers or business executives – in a safe, reliable and clean service.
BRT is a global concept, with more than 47 BRT systems operating worldwide. The most extensive systems are based in Latin America. In South Africa, besides Tshwane, the City of Johannesburg, the City of Cape Town and Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality are all implementing BRT systems.
In Tshwane, the comprehensive BRT project – which could be regarded as a mini-Gautrain – typically involves dedicated bus way corridors on segregated lanes. Since BRT buses have a higher axle load than normal buses, these dedicated lanes may either be newly-created, additional lanes, or existing lanes that have been reinforced.
Addressing a total of some 80 kilometres of bus lines, there are two phases to the Tshwane BRT project:
- Line 1 will comprise of 19 stations and will run from Mabopane to the central business district (CBD)
- Line 2 will comprise of 43 stations and run from the CBD, past Menlyn and on to Mamelodi
Since Line 1 services the northern areas of Tshwane, it will have different operating characteristics from Line 2, with long stretches of road without commuters. Its flow will be directional, with most commuters’ point of origin being their homes. Here 90 percent of commuting will be inward-bound, with 10 percent going out in the mornings; this trend will be reversed in the afternoons.
Line 2, which has far more commuters along the line, will cater for multiple directions. Densities here will differ from Line 1 – for example, between Arcadia and Sunnyside, 60 percent of commuters could be inward-bound, with 40 percent outgoing.
In designing the 62 BRT stations, cognisance has been made of where they are being built, and all efforts have been made to ensure that each is appropriate for the environment it will be in. To this end, four different BRT station designs are being implemented – urban, residential, heritage and freeway.
With the roll-out of the BRT system, the city of Tshwane has created a operating company responsible for building the key infrastructure – comprising bus ways, stations, depots, a control centre and termini – and has also contracted third party operators, including taxis and buses, to fill in any gaps.
The Tshwane BRT will eventually replace existing buses and taxis where services have traditionally been provided. This could entail buying out taxis operating licenses, these operators will be absorbed into the new BRT system.
The Tshwane BRT will use the very latest, modernised bus technologies, including intelligent transport systems, a fibre optic backbone, Wi-Fi, CCTV, and real-time commuter information boards, which can provide such details as when the next bus is due.
An integrated electronic fare collection system, based on smart cards, will allow commuters to top up their cards at retailers like Pick ’n Pay, or by using the Internet. Vending machines will also be available to dispense cash tickets.
Buses will also be tracked via CCTV and GPS monitoring, which will allow the operator to determine whether buses are ahead or behind schedule.
BRT operations will revolve around a system of closed stations which have been designed to enable commuters to enter buses on the same level as the platform; this system of level boarding is suitable for all people.
The plan is that from five in the morning until midnight, BRT buses will run at two to four minute intervals during peak periods, and seven to ten minutes during off-peak periods.
Like the Gautrain, each BRT station can be fed by feeder lines – which could comprise of buses and taxis. The Pretoria station interfaces the BRT system with the Gautrain and traditional rail services, with the existing ring rail system being upgraded and modernised.