Monday, 20 October 2008
During our recent visit to South Africa, we had the chance to review a host of infrastructure projects in anticipation of the 2010 World Cup soccer championship that will be held there. Much of this work related to improved roadways and intersections. Regarding mass transit, the entire country has embraced bus rapid transit (BRT) as the solution to their transit deficiencies. They anticipate that BRT will have a significant effect on South Africa's urban landscape long after the games have ceased.
But what is bus rapid transit? The National Bus Rapid Transit Institute at the University of South Florida defines it as an "innovative high capacity lower cost public transit solution that can significantly improve urban mobility." Twenty years ago, Pittsburgh began planning a bus rapid transit facility, but it has not received widespread use in the United States. Countries in South America and Latin America use bus rapid transit as the major means for their mobility. Other countries such as Australia and Nigeria have implemented BRT systems. China is also launching 13 bus rapid transit systems. Baltimore is considering it as one of the alternatives to their east/west Redline.
In South Africa, the chairman of their parliament's transportation committee recognizes that BRT is not a silver bullet, but does have many advantages. He believes that it shares roughly the same efficiencies as urban rail at a fraction of the cost. Johannesburg and Cape Town in particular are planning extensive systems, 122km and 38km respectively. Other towns such as Port Elizabeth and Durban are planning less ambitious routes.
Hopefully, South Africa's ambitious effort will provide an excellent example of the use of BRT that will inspire its use elsewhere.