Bus Johannesburg South Africa

Johannesburg Fights Taxi Driver Opposition to BRT Project Necessary for 2010 World Cup

Johannesburg BRT Project Map» Arguments over government’s involvement in transportation put into question the role of transit in cities dependent on taxis and private buses.

South Africa will host the continent’s first World Cup in 2010, and in preparation for the event, the city of Johannesburg has been rebuilding its transportation system with a focus on a new bus rapid transit network. But threats and shootings by members of the city’s strong taxi drivers union suggests that the project’s full implementation will not come easily. In a city that desperately needs alternatives to its traffic congestion, this kind of opposition is counter-productive.

Johannesburg, the country’s largest city with a population of almost four million, already offers commuter rail service in the form of Metrorail, which carries two million passengers daily. The Gautrain project, currently under construction, will eventually connect downtown Johannesburg with the capital in Pretoria and the international airport. But it will provide fast intercity connections and it will not be open until after the World Cup concludes.

The BRT project, called Rea Vaya, fulfills a different role: more local service to dense areas of the metropolis. Its first phase began operations last month, and when World Cup rolls around next summer, it will offer 86 km of lines and 100 stations. By 2013, as represented in the map above, the system will be expanded to 122 km and 150 stations. Unlike most “BRT” lines, Johannesburg will be getting the real thing in Rea Vaya: bus-only rights-of-way, high-level platforms at stations allowing level boarding onto buses, and pre-boarding fare collection within stations. In other words, it will be efficient and rapid and give the areas along its route an alternative to existing modes of transport, which take too long too frequently.

But taxi drivers in the area see the BRT as major competition, and they’ve been making their opinion known throughout the system’s development period. Several bus drivers have been threatened by taxi owners, and this week a guard for one of the system’s planners was shot in what appears to be direct action by a rogue gang of something equivalent to a taxi mafia. The United Taxi Association Forum, the union of drivers, denies association with any of the violence but it is clear that individual members are threatened by the creation of the BRT system.

While the violence in South Africa may be beyond the international norm, the reaction of taxi drivers to the implementation of a competing government-run transit network is relatively standard. Plans in Lagos for a light rail system, similarly, have been received negatively by drivers of the yellow buses that take most people everywhere.

To some extent, this opposition is reasonable: the BRT system will eliminate the means to make a living for thousands of taxi drivers in Johannesburg. In a country where unemployment is rampant, creating “efficiency” through better transit ultimately means cutting a number of people out of the job market, at least in the short term. Compensation probably should be made to the city’s taxi drivers, just to ensure that they’re able to transition to new careers.

Yet the lack of better urban mobility for the people of Johannesburg is a limitation for the city as a whole, keeping millions of people in traffic when they could be doing more productive things with their lives. Opposing the system ultimately means denying the population of an alternative to most inner-city commutes; using violence to threaten the network’s completion is a disgrace.

Image above: Johannesburg BRT system full build-out, from Rea Vaya

16 replies on “Johannesburg Fights Taxi Driver Opposition to BRT Project Necessary for 2010 World Cup”

I think the general feeling here in Johannesburg is that the taxi associations are being particularly unreasonable. The City has gone a long way towards trying to incorporate the taxi associations into the operation of the Rea Vaya, but given the informal nature of the taxi industry, inevitably not all taxi associations have been included.

It’s a very difficult issue to address, not only because you need to provide a safe and efficient transport system (which the taxis generally do not provide), but because the taxis will still be needed, however only for so long as the routes in which they operate are not covered by the BRT. In addition, the taxis will still be needed to supplement Rea Vaya systems. The result are segregated multiple forms of transport systems that are not centrally coordinated or regulated. The trick then comes in trying to balance out everyone’s interests, something that is pretty near impossible.

But in a post I did on the legal implications of taxi exclusion in the BRT process – available here, – I conclude that the public interest in creating the Rea Vaya BRT will trump the commercial interests of the taxi industry, not only because the BRT will provide safe, affordable and efficient transport, but also because the BRT system doesn’t completely exclude the taxi system from operating their own services to compete with the Rea Vaya.

Great blog. I’m a dilettante on these issues, but i love TTP. RE Taxies: My very superficial observation has been that the cities with the most taxie service also have great transit too. I never take a cab where I live, which does not have good transit, but whenever I visit new york I invariably end up shelling out, because I spend most of my trips on the subway. The same was true in Madrid, another city full of cabs. It my observation wrong? Has this issue been addressed?

For an event such as the world cup coming up this system is desperately needed. The bus services and taxi services provide a often violent environment for commuters to deal with, on top of that you have the crime levels that need tempered as well. With millions of foreign visitors coming to the country thats no an environment you want to present them with.

Taxis, as defined in South Africa, are Mini Busses not backseat taxis although they too exist. So you have 16 plus people per taxi not 1 or 2. I’ve taken them on many occasions and they stop where you want them to mostly and they don’t charge an awful lot for the service.

Taxi wars are a ever present threat. Being from South Africa and having seen this first hand in the centre of towns on multiple occasions, I can’t help but cringe at the prospect of hosting such an event successfully without taxi lords getting pissed at each other and then systems such as these mentioned, vying for business. It’s a mess that needs sorted before the event starts.

Taxi’s need to understand that this is a win win for SA and they can be part of a solution to project a better image as a whole.

What I wonder about these developing world minibus “systems” is if the right way to go about replacing them might be to set up some kind incentives program for drivers to get training and buy larger vehicles rather than trying to directly compete with traditional transit? You could then start building BRT like infrastructure only open to larger vehicles… Eventually start buying out individual operators, taking their vehicles into a larger system and hiring them as drivers.

The end result is still a traditional transit operation, but the transition is less difficult, and in the short term maintains the individual owner operators while still moving toward greater efficiency.

Great article,

I especially agree with this observation: “. Unlike most “BRT” lines, Johannesburg will be getting the real thing in Rea Vaya: bus-only rights-of-way, high-level platforms at stations allowing level boarding onto buses, and pre-boarding fare collection within stations”.

Hopefully the World Cup will provide an opportunity for attendees to appreciate these characteristics.

As a comment to NCarlson, the BRT cannot function at it’s highest potential (safe, passenger capacity, fast trip speeds) without very strict standardization and the features noted above. From what I understand, the model used in Johanesburg offers the the drivers the opportunity to work with Rea Vaya in different capacities. In Bogota, the TransMilenio BRT system is actually operated by several groups (including at least one company that owned & operated fleets of informal buses). The companies in Bogota are contracted out to operate according to the regulations set by TransMilenio, which owns the infrastructure. The regulations are so specific that as a user the system is entirely cohesive – I am not sure if the same model was is being used in South Africa.

I don’t agree with those who say that BRT is a legitimate substitute, but in Johannesburg, as in Ottawa, Curitiba, Bogota, and elsewhere, BRT is better than nothing.

One point worth noting: Saying Joburg has 4 mn people understates the problem. Greater Joburg/the Rand has over 7 mn people and is very spread out for numerous historical reasons (commuter rail only, apartheid creation of separate adjacent cities). Since Joburg is growing into Pretoria/Tshwane, the conurbation in 2015 is projected to have 15 mn people.

So the problem is much more dire: transit was needed years ago; and, Rea Vaya is a great start. (Gautrain will help also, albeit on a regional scale.) Failure would make it difficult to roll out BRT to Cape Town and Durban.

As an Alabama boy who spent a few months in the suburbs of Jo’burg, using the taxis was not always a horrible system. You stood on the corner where the taxis usually passed with a generally steady frequency, and you waved one down and crammed in. The 9 or so Rand that you pay was worth it to me, considering that walks in Jo’burg during the summer are both very hot and exhausting. I think the system is okay as it is, there is a sort of colloquial charm to it all honestly.

I understand the initiative for the BRT, having seen the traffic snafus created almost daily by random police checkpoints (which will likely only get more frequent with the World Cup en route). It is good to know that Jo’burg is going to be taking a step into the 21st century, however, I do question how some of the BRT protocols will be handled in the Jo’burg environment. I would say that the Troyville area in particular is not going to be a great area for pre-pay boarding, though I am also unsure of how to get around the mugging of tourists. Maybe, just maybe the police will become a little less corrupt through this whole process, maybe become a little more reliable. I hope so.

I guess in the end I am torn. I see the benefits of both systems, but I always realize the more urgent need to update old systems. So, I figure I must be pro-BRT.

Hi Jon, I think you would find that the ‘Detroit situation’ in Joburg has changed considerably, and will continue to change with the BRT consolidating communities and bringing them out from behind their high walls and closed environments. With regards to security in the inner city and around the BRT stations, this has also improved considerably with the installation of CCTV cameras and security guards. I personally feel quite safe walking around the city and taking the BRT, but nevertheless there is much improvement to be made. My only criticism of the BRT is that other public transport systems in Joburg are not as integrated into the system as they should be, and also that there are a number of glitches in the system – in particular, the electronic boards detailing the arrival time of the next buses do not work, and there is no announcement of the next stop within the bus. Simple things that could polish the whole system off.

A few points:

When people talk about “taxis” in South Africa, they’re usually not referring to metered cabs as in New York, etc. (Although such cabs do exist in South Africa)

Instead, they are referring to the minivans used as an informal, unsubsidized, public transit service. (In the US, we would use the term “jitney” or “dollar van”).

The South African taxi service got its start during the apartheid years, when blacks had to live in townships far from cities such as Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town. While some township commuters could take trains into the city, these quickly became overcrowded. The government subsidized fleets of buses (PUTCO) for this purpose as well.

A few black entrepreneurs started transporting people in minivans. The apartheid government, which usually frowned on black-owned
businesses, generally looked the other way at the taxis. The taxis provided transport to and from the townships without an expensive government subsidy, was probably the reason.

Growth of taxis mushroomed to the point where they carry more than 60%
of all public transport riders in South Africa; bus ridership dropped and PUTCO, which became a symbol of apartheid, withdrew much of its service.

The post-apartheid government, realizing that the taxis were an important source of employment as well as transportation, continued to allow the taxis to operate. Taxi drivers and associations became very politically powerful as well, and many officials feared defying them.

While either government never prohibited taxis from operating, it also never attempted to regulate them in any meaningful way either. Taxi operators were free to pick their own routes and schedules. Operators soon formed associations, which became more like mafias, not above using violence to discourage other taxi operators or associations from encroaching on a particular route.

Taxis have also threatened competing forms of transportation as well, such as city buses in Cape Town. In some areas, people in *personal automobiles* have been dragged out of their cars and forced to take taxis.

Taxi operators’ driving habits are legendary, and not in a good way. Speeding, unsafe lane changes, and stopping suddenly to board/let off passengers are all too common. Vehicle maintenance leaves much to be desired too, although a government program (“taxi recapitalization”) promises to provide new vehicles to the operators….


Taxis Give Blacks a Chance at the Driver’s Seat:South African Taxi Industry Gives New Clout to Blacks
William Claiborne Washington Post Foreign Service. The Washington Post (1974-Current file). Washington, D.C.:May 18, 1988. p. A23 (2 pp.)

S. African Bus Firm Cuts Service:Company Attacked For Apartheid Role
By William Claiborne Washington Post Foreign Service. The Washington Post (1974-Current file). Washington, D.C.:Dec 6, 1986. p. A25 (2 pp.)

Also, check any South African newspaper on the web (such as, and search on “Taxi”. is also good.

Youtube has a number of videos showing taxis in action (search “joburg taxi”)

Last week in my Transportation Management class at UIC we discussed the heavy rail system (in planning) for Bogota, Columbia.

The transit system there isn’t sure of how to deal with the thousands of collectivo drivers, who are independent of the transit agency but provide millions of trips per day and connect riders to the transit agency’s BRT system (TransMilenio).

One idea is to integrate the drivers into the agency and make them employees. However, there are many issues to this.
1. What do you do about their vehicles?
2. How do you split the revenue?
3. What payment instrument do you use?
4. What fare do you charge? Not all collectivo riders also take a trip in the transit agency’s system.
5. How do you combat corruption?
6. Is it possible to ban collectivos?
7. How do you take into consideration the tens of thousands of taxi drivers?

Before we could answer many of these questions, several students asked questions that could only be answered by data about the agency’s daily trips, Census-like data that would tell where people live and go to work, and something like a Household Travel Survey that would show which methods people take on their trips.

I hope this is relevant :)

Why the hell did Johannesburg choose BRT over rail? A city as big as Johannesburg needs some type of rail transit. I just don’t think buses are going to be able to do the job.

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