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Mother City Mobility

January 11, 2010

Cape Town’s CBD is relatively small and a pleasure to explore on foot. Nevertheless, now and then, particularly when you need to travel further a field, public transport is essential. I discussed Golden Arrow in a previous blog post, but what other options are there?

Metered taxis are an effective way of getting from a to b, but there’s an air of seediness that surrounds some of these vehicles. Add to that the cost and it’s far from worth it. Just recently I was charged R30 for a late night journey from Fiction in Long Street to a friend’s place not five minutes away in Tamboerskloof. On the evening of the World Cup draw, a taxi from Wale Street to Mercury across town set me back R50. Lesson learnt. Still, this is the best bet if you’re out with mates.

The less said about the nation’s favourite transport – the minibus taxi – the better. Sure, they redefine the term “rapid transit” but they are also the very definition of unsafe. The last thing I want is to arrive at my destination dead, or worse, to get out and push when the taxi breaks down. This is not an option for me.

This brings us to the veritable jewel in the plastic tiara of Cape Town public transport – Metrorail. It’s not the Orient Express, but it works – most of the time. The line between the CBD and Strand, which also branches off to Stellenbosch, is a bit scary, and frankly, there’s no reason to ever travel to the bleak Northern Suburbs. The Southern line, however, is a treasure. I’ve used this service since I was a small child. It’s safe and reasonably efficient, and I’m willing to bet that the section along the False Bay coastline between Muizenberg and Simon’s Town is the most picturesque rail route in the world. It’s a pity then that Metrorail is so limited. With only one hundred odd stations in the suburbs and townships to the south and to the east of the city centre, and no inner city loop, it’s hardly an all-encompassing transport solution. It is cheap though, and perfect for commuting.

Later this year the City of Cape Town will begin to roll out its new bus rapid transit (BRT) system, which it intends to integrate fully with existing public transport services under the banner of IRT – Integrated Rapid Transit. BRT aims to emulate traditional train-based rapid transit systems but at a fraction of the cost as existing road infrastructure is used. Phase 1A, which includes trunk routes between the airport and the CBD and between the CBD and the new stadium in Green Point ought to be ready in time for 2010. An inner city route will also be offered as part of Phase 1A. This, I believe, is the way forward in terms of improving Cape Town public transport. A similar service recently started in Johannesburg hasn’t been without its (sometimes dire) teething problems, but I’m optimistic nonetheless. BRT has proved to be successful in certain South American countries with similar socio-economic problems to those of South Africa. There is also talk of a universal fair structure akin to London’s Oyster card system, which will allow passengers to interchange between Metrorail etc. and BRT without hassle. I look forward to using BRT when it’s launched.

In the meantime, I will continue to use the Southern Metrorail line and to drive everywhere else. It’s not politically correct or environmentally friendly to do so, but Cape Town has some fantastic driver’s roads – my favourite being the winding mountain pass over Kloof Nek to Camps Bay. Here I often pretend I’m Jeremy Clarkson, grit my teeth and shout, “Oh my God!” as I freewheel it down Camps Bay Drive. Shall we petition to get Top Gear to film an Atlantic Seaboard special? I think it would make for excellent TV. Can you imagine James May exclaiming, “Oh cock,” as he dodges a taxi on Victoria Road? I normally mutter something similar.


From → Cape Town

  1. LittleBigPhil permalink

    I had the same Fiction experience that you had, and I think the driver had no licence because he crashed the car after dropping me off and having to take a friend home. The last time I take a meter taxi.

    • Hectic. Do you have hope for BRT?

      • LittleBigPhil permalink

        So much hope for BRT. But its success depends on the buy in from the taxi people. I really hope that the taxi industry starts to realise that they holding south africa back.

  2. I agree, the metered taxi situation isn’t great. Half of them that I’ve gotten into don’t even have meters. Always get out of those (in favor of one with a meter) because they’re inevitably a ripoff.

    I bicycle as transportation sometimes. CT is a bit of a scary city to do that in but it has been alright so far–just have to make oneself seen (and heard, if necessary).

    For all the anti drink driving campaigning, it’s seems like they’re missing an important point: a reasonable transportation alternative to driving at night. A good bus system or safe streets to walk/ bike are key to decreasing the amount of drunk driving.

    • Spot on. I use metered taxis quite often, for work and when I’m out at night, so I know more or less how much I should be paying for, let’s say, a trip from Mercury to Tamboerskloof. If I get a “metered” taxi sans meter, I always negotiate a fare beforehand. I fear that even when BRT is fully functioning, buses won’t run after 12am.

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