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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 October 2005, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
Stopping the Johannesburg jams
Bus and taxi
Buses run infrequently, while taxis are often badly maintained.
In an effort to promote public transport, the Johannesburg city authorities declared Thursday No Car Day. The BBC News website's Justin Pearce went out to see whether citizens were taking any notice.

"No more people than usual, it's just normal," said one minibus driver operating a route from Johannesburg's northern suburbs into the city.

Looking around on Thursday morning, it didn't seem as if the No Car Day declared by the Johannesburg Metro Council was having much of an impact.

It was certainly a long way from car drivers' worst fears. Car owners in this city are so wedded to their vehicles that the very thought of leaving one's car at home for a day was enough to spark mild panic.

An e-mail of what looked like a newspaper article did the rounds in Johannesburg: "It's official! No cars will be allowed on Johannesburg roads on October 20."

I thought about how to get my son to school, and the only way would have been to walk
Johannesburg commuter
It was a hoax. At a news conference earlier this week, city officials assured the media that No Car Day was a voluntary initiative to make people think again about public transport in Johannesburg.

Only for the desperate

One thing is clear: A lot more thinking is required. Johannesburg's current public transport system, based on crime-ridden trains, ramshackle minibuses and buses that shamble along a few times a day whenever they feel like it, is strictly for those who cannot afford private transport.

Taxi passengers
Public transport is used mostly by those who cannot afford cars.
Those who are sufficiently well off to buy a car almost invariably use it every day.

The result: Of the 3.2 million journeys that Johannesburgers make each day, just over half are made in private vehicles. Some roads are approaching a state of permanent jam.

Car commuters who spoke to the BBC News website liked the idea of No Car Day, but concluded in the end that it just wasn't practical.

"I thought about how to get my son to school, and the only way would have been to walk," said university lecturer Lesley Cowling.

"I thought of making an issue out of it, but is it worth making a seven-year-old walk for an hour with a heavy school bag?"

Bad timing

And while it might just be possible to get to work by public transport in the morning and get home in the evening, the system is unsuitable for getting around town throughout the day.

Gridlock
Growing congestion means urgent action is needed
BBC Africa bureau chief Milton Nkosi said he was very keen on the idea of using public transport.

"In fact I'd been planning it even before this No Car Day because my young son is fascinated by minibus taxis and he's never been in one.

"However, this morning I realised I might have one or two meetings in different parts of the city during the course of the day. If they are confirmed, I wouldn't be able to get there without having a car in the office."

As for this writer: I walked to work as I always do, but then I realise that in this vast and sprawling city, living only 15 minutes' walk from the office makes me far more privileged than the car-owners.

All change?

Slowly, rising fuel prices, impending gridlock and the spectre of an influx of tourists for the 2010 Football World Cup are prompting talk of a better public transport service.

The government is aiming for a target of 80% of all journeys being made by public transport - a long way from the current 50-50 split seen in Johannesburg.

In Gauteng province, the showcase project is the so-called Gautrain, a high-speed rail service to link the business hub of Johannesburg with the national capital, Pretoria.

The city authorities promise, though, that this scheme will be complemented by a wider-reaching and more regular network of buses and minibuses serving local routes.

Planning

But the city's sheer size and relatively low population density present a serious obstacle.

Amanda Nair, Johannesburg's executive director for transport and environment development planning, talks of "a history of forced sprawl, in an uncoordinated and inefficient manner".

Apartheid laws obliged the city's black majority population to live far from their workplaces. Even after the end of apartheid, the city has continued to expand outwards, with new housing estates and office parks growing up on the periphery and increasing commuting distances.

That is now due to change.

"In certain areas we are not promoting development because the cost of providing public transport to those areas is too high," Ms Nair says.

She admits though that "Rome wasn't built in a day".

Johannesburg wasn't built in a day either. Next year the city celebrates its 120th birthday, but an efficient public transport system could take longer still.


If you're in Johannesburg, let us know what you think of No Car Day. If you're elsewhere in Africa, tell us what public transport is like in your home city.

Your comments:

I have lived for five years solid in South Africa. The public transport here is cheap compared to other countries in southern Africa. What is needed is to break the rusted bondage of verbal segregations that still ruin this city of Joburg - only once did I see a white South African in a local taxi. The majority depend on their own transport.
Rabbyce Kittermasterr, Malawian in SA

It would be an eye-opener to experience how the other half lives
Shakira, Johannesburg

Not many people participated in the car free day. Most people would have to walk long distance to find public transport be it a bus or taxi so as to avoid such issues, just stick to what you know and use your own car. Pity, it would be an eye-opener to experience how the other half lives.
Shakira, Johannesburg

I was quite excited by the No Car Day initiative as it really jolted my perception of our public transport system. I deliberately left my car at home and I took a taxi from Johannesburg to Pretoria this morning, I am looking forward to returning home by taxi this afternoon. I believe that this initiative should be supported as we certainly do need a new approach and solutions to our road congestion challenges.
Zanozuko, Johannesburg, South Africa

I think it's ludicrous that fat cat city bosses (in their ubiquitous black German luxury sedans) complain that not enough Joburgers use public transport. If they tackled the basics (forcing lawless taxi drivers to drive in a manner that doesn't endanger passengers' lives, forcing public buses to adhere to schedules, and prohibiting developments on the edge of the city) we wouldn't be in this mess! Given the option of using reliable, safe and affordable public transport, most Joburgers would leave their cars at home.
Brett, Johannesburg, South Africa

The no car day would have been effective if the government had contracted the services of private bus companies to augment the already stretched current system. I wanted to support the idea but I thought I would inconvenience the regular commuters, so I took my car!
Jackie Mondi, Johannesburg, South Africa

Great idea and it has being long overdue.
Tshepo, Alexandra, SA

Public transport apart from being unreliable is becoming death traps as so many fatal accidents happen with the minibuses. Minibus drivers have no patience on the road. They always think of making more trips, more money, ignoring road safety rules. It is very sad, a week cannot pass without hearing a fatal accident claiming many lives.
Edward Mlenga, Blantyre, Malawi




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