‘A Re Yeng’ Bus Rapid Transit Project: City of Tshwane

Lungelwa Kaywood, SALGA – South African Local Government Association

Relevance of the Practice

Twenty-five years post democracy, South African cities are still characterized by dysfunctional, inefficient, and spatially unjust settlement patterns. This places a costly transport burden on the poor communities that are settled far away from job opportunities. Therefore, the country had to explore initiatives such as Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) which have proven successful in trying to create more inclusive cities and more efficient settlement patterns. Selected as the preferred practice, the BRT model has evolved from an emerging mode used mainly in developing countries to an established transportation mode providing sustainable mobility in cities throughout the world.[1] A developing country, South Africa was not to be left behind as transport is deemed to be one of the critical success factors for the country’s developing economy. As such, this project was important to the country and received the required support from various organs of state such as the National Treasury, Department of Transport, the private sector as well as the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). The practice is related to all the report sections in that it addresses the role of local government in service provision beyond basic services such as water and electricity.

The National Land Transportation Act (NLTA) provides the legal framework for the development and implementation of the Integrated Rapid Public Transport Networks (IRPTN) by the metropolitan cities in South Africa. Using the case of Tshwane City, their IRPTN strategy set out the network plan for BRT corridors and integration with rail services such as the Gautrain and PRASA commuter rail links in the short, medium and long term. The government support (in whole) was key to the success of this project. The City of Tshwane was allowed to use a portion of its grant income to cover some of the funding requirements. The project also received support from the traditional ‘affected operators’ in that a number of taxi drivers were trained to operate the new BRT buses which resulted in better working conditions.

Description of the Practice

Loosely translated, A Re Yeng means ’Let’s Go’, it has been operating since 2014 around the Pretoria centre and surrounding suburbs. The A Re Yeng buses are equipped with free Wi-Fi on board and are operated by qualified former taxi drivers recruited from the various taxi associations in the City. The bus project was rolled out in phases, culminating in the construction of 80-kilometre long dedicated lanes. Comprising of 51 bus stations that stretch from poor townships, the buses pass through the city centre and surrounding suburbs. The project provides communities with improved public transport in terms of quality, reliability and safety as well as better mobility and accessibility. The project was funded using public revenue and loans from the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). This project is relevant to report section 3 on local finances in that it had a direct impact on the local financial arrangements. The involvement of the multiple state organs as part of the project team speaks to the intergovernmental fiscal relations (report section 5) and lastly, communities have to be involved as part of the planning and budgeting processes (report section 6 on people’s participation). However, the project does not adequately respond to some of the problematic realities connected with the urban-rural divide and interplay. For example, although A Re Yeng buses have provided better connectivity between poor townships, cities, and rich suburbs, the buses do not travel beyond the city limits, and this excludes rural communities from using them, unless they are visiting the city. Despite the need for public transport in rural areas, so far, there are few cities that are incorporating rural areas in their roll out of bus rapid transport. This is could be because cities have a greater need for mobility due to the large populations (2.921 million in Tshwane) and the huge difficulty of traffic congestion. These challenges do not exist in most rural areas. The buses would also have to operate at a profit, or at least break even, which would be difficult in rural areas having significantly lower populations, and economic activity, compared to cities. Moreover, many rural areas do not have adequate road infrastructure to service some remote areas.

Assessment of the Practice

The BRT system has been successfully implemented by 5 of the 8 metropolitan cities in South Africa and seems to have addressed the spatially unjust settlement patterns by offering accessible, affordable and attractive means of transport to a broad range of people across communities. The BRT has further offered accessible public transport for vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities and mothers with children. With dedicated bus lanes, traffic congestion was meant to reduce though the jury is still out on whether this has been realized. However, it has not been without its problems, particularly for the City of Tshwane’s (Tshwane) ‘A Re Yeng’ BRT. It appears as though the BRT systems were seen as a panacea to public transport in South Africa as opposed to a mode that forms part of an integrated system of different modes. Van Ryneveld[2] notes that ‘public transport systems like ‘A Re Yeng’ are not primarily about the urban/rural linkage’, which is the problem that the national government sought to address when it introduced the BRT system. He further states that ‘the BRT system is about moving large numbers of people quickly through densely populated or densely trafficked areas/corridors, and by moving quickly this also reduces operating costs’. What has happened in reality is that the technology that was chosen for the BRT system was not suitable for the transport challenge that Tshwane faces, which is to transport large numbers of people from its rural spaces/sections into the urban centre. Furthermore, the fare system of BRT was too complicated and costly. As such, the BRT system has ended up not being suited to Tshwane. The City of Tshwane could have drawn far more lessons from the City of Johannesburg’s BRT system which recognized the non-motorised transport system as modes to be further developed as part of this integrated system.

References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications

Chigwata T, De Visser J and Kaywood L, Developmental Local Government Research Series: The Journey to Transform Local Government (Juta 2019)

Statistics South Africa, ‘General Household Survey 2017’ (Stats SA 2018)   <http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0318/P03182017.pdf> accessed 2 May 2019

The African National Congress, ‘The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP)’ (1994)

[1] National BRT Institute, <https://nbrti.org/>.

[2] Interview with Philip Van Ryneveld, independent consultant, Hunter Can Ryneveld (26 March 2021).