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Metrobus FEATURE

Johannesburg’s bus company, Metrobus, provides public transport for everyone from scholars to pensioners. Having run for decades, it is now ensuring it is ‘future ready’ through integration and green innovation. By Jane McCallion

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etrobus is a municipal-owned bus transportation company in Johannesburg. Owned by the city, the company transports around six million passengers per year. As well as commuters, Metrobus also transports scholars and pensioners around the metropolitan area and has six specially adapted buses that are exclusively used by people with reduced mobility. The City of Johannesburg is currently on a drive towards increasing the use of public transport; Metrobus, naturally, has a major role. “We want to encourage people to move away from cars and into public transport and the bus is one of those methods,” says Lawrence Maqekoane, who became Acting Managing Director of Metrobus in September 2011. One of the ways in which this is being implemented is the integration of all the public transport services in the city. “We have Metrobus, which is a medium density method of transportation, a high density bus rapid transport (BRT) system and also Metrorail and the Gautrain, which runs through the city. So we are working with the Department of Transport in Johannesburg to integrate everything, meaning that you are able to change from one mode of public transport to another easily. We also want to move towards a system where one ticket can take you on all methods of transport.” As a public transport service provider, there are a number of challenges that Metrobus faces, however the largest is the fact that its fleet is comprised of aging buses. “The challenge is how do we maintain them so that they don’t breakdown and we end up cancelling that journey, leaving passengers stranded,” says Maqekoane. “We have a trained fleet of mechanics who regularly service our buses to ensure that they run as smoothly as possible, but that can only overcome a certain number of problems.” Probably the most difficult problem that the company has to deal with in this area is the actual design and engineering of the buses themselves.

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“We would sometimes find that the bus was manufactured for a different climate, often a European one where it is cold,” he explains, “Then when the bus is imported here, the climate is very different, it is very hot, and the vehicle can’t cope. The design itself, how the vehicle was designed and engineered, is not suitable for local conditions.” Consequently, Metrobus works with its mechanics to identify the problems that the buses are suffering due to climate and then works with the manufacturer to adapt them to local conditions. Another way that the company is seeking to resolve the issue of an aging fleet is to purchase new buses. Over the next two years it will be introducing 25 new vehicles to its stable, but these are not merely likefor-like replacements for those that are decommissioned. “We have problems with fuel pollution in Johannesburg, so one of the strategic objectives for the city is to reduce emissions. We also realise that we need alternative sources of fuel that are not linked to crude oil,” says Maqekoane. Currently, Metrobus is running a pilot scheme of two buses, one running on compressed natural gas (CNG), the other running on bio-ethanol. “We have allowed ourselves these two guinea pigs because we didn’t want to take a big risk in the project.” Another positive aspect of using alternative fuels, particularly bio-ethanol, is that it 4

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creates jobs in rural areas. “The ethanol is made from crops such as sugar beet, which require people to sow, maintain and harvest them, so it creates employment too.” The trial has now been running successfully for 18 months and is now ready to move into a new phase: Companies were invited to put forward information to the company regarding buses that use alternative fuels. “We have learned a lot during the trial about running green buses, for example different fuels require different tanks and different storage. But in the ‘request for information’ phase, we are open to suggestions on any type of alternative fuel,” says Maqekoane. This phase will be finished once Metrobus has decided what kind of fuel it will use across all its new green buses and will then enter an invitation to tender stage. It is hoped that all 25 will be on the road at the end of the next financial year, however regulation has to be put in place by the local government before the full rollout can take place. “We can only move ahead once the regulatory framework has been put in place,” explains Maqekoane. “This is a new product and a new technology to Johannesburg and there are many things for the city to consider: Will we have to pay duty on the fuel? If so, how much? Which acts of government will apply? So until that is sorted out, there are still many uncertainties.”


Metrobus FEATURE

We want to encourage people to move away from cars and into public transport and the bus is one of those methods Recently, Metrobus revised its schedule and routes for the first time in five years. “One of the advantages of the service that we operate is that it has flexibility. So we could be using a certain route but over time needs change and it is no longer suitable. There may be a new shopping centre and new developments - now there is a shift in terms of the demographic. This route you may now have fewer people and people who are walking a kilometre to get to a bus stop. You need to respond by moving the bus stops, changing the route and changing the timetable, and that’s what we have done.” Over the next five years, Metrobus will be consolidating its place as part of the integrated transport plan for Johannesburg, says Maqekoane. “It will be like a spider system where we feed into other modes of transport. We have the BRT, but it travels only on a tram route like a train. So to get from your house to the station, you can use Metrobus. We could also feed into the Gautrain. So we see Metrobus as a medium density transport mode that has flexibility to carry passengers to other modes of transport and we are part of the negotiations with other transport modes about that.” END www.southafricamag.com

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METROBUS FEATURE