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Gautrain not world-class yet

08 December 2012, 11:22
Staring out my car window out onto the mass of cars and concrete that makes up the N1, I find myself wondering; Is the Gauteng Mega City of Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekhuruleni simply a disjointed mass of suburbia that should leave us uninspired? Or can it be more?

I’ve just returned from vacationing in Istanbul and Athens and thoroughly enjoyed exploring these cities using the public transport there. The public transport system in Istanbul especially is remarkable with seamless integration between the trains, trams, ferries, busses and even a cable car using a single card to swipe.

Even more amazing was paying about R20 for a 2 hour ferry ride to the Prince’s Islands and about R6 when using the trams. In Athens trains run late into the night and there is excellent coverage right across the city.

Each station seems to be a hub for street life, although the Greeks only seem to come out to party late at night with clubs only opening at 11pm.Living car-free in these cities is definitely a viable option.

So even in the midst of a biting recession at least the Greeks can save all those costs related to being a motorist (Car Payments, Insurance, Petrol, Maintenance, Licensing etc.) All this got me thinking, how does our public transport compare?

It certainly isn’t as integrated or offer the comprehensive coverage of Istanbul. Neither does it promote a vibrant nightlife as in Athens because of the limited operating hours. I would also find it quite difficult to live without my car on a daily basis here in Gauteng.

The Gauteng 5 year transport plan has excellent strategies in promoting a world-class sustainable transport system and the 80kms of Gautrain service that we’ve got so far is obviously an excellent start towards making the Gauteng Mega City region truly world-class.

But, the policy seems to fall short on several points. Too much of the planning and funds continue to favour roads and motorists over public transport. The plan also lacks imagination in creating vibrant transit oriented development.Here go my humble thoughts on what could work; Let us leverage our best asset so far, the Gautrain, and create a Gauteng Mega City that is a vibrant place to live in and visit.

Why not make our city the Vegas-like party capital of Africa and a shoppers dream rivaling Hong Kong or Dubai.A lot of the pieces of the puzzle are already there. Fantastic Casinos like Monte Casino, Gold Reef and Emperors Palace. World Class shopping centers like Sandton City, Rosebank Mall, Menlyn and Fourways Mall. Great places to gather like FNB Stadium and NASREC.

Interesting tourist spots like Soweto, the Apartheid Museum, SAB World of Beer, Lion Park, Carlton Panorama, Union Buildings, Church square and our Zoos. Problem being that our city is very spread out and visitors to our city (and probably many locals too) don’t get around to exploring all it has to offer.

All the attractions that I’ve listed here could and should be connected to make our city truly world-class.In the short term, what we need is extended operating hours on the Gautrain, until 11pm at night at least. This will do a lot to promoting a vibrant nightlife in the city, locals can meet up with friends after work and tourists can spend some more hard currency on dining out, shopping at our malls and hitting the casinos.

We already have a Gautrain bus to Monte Casino and one planed for Emperors Palace. But further weekday and weekend bus services should be introduced to Gold reef City and Menlyn. This should certainly help to get more riders on the Gautrain over weekends.In the longer term some extensions to the Gautrain route are needed.

Given that the costs of building the routes are hefty, I would propose only adding about 25kms of service. Firstly, a 10km extension from Park Station with stops at Gold Reef City and FNB Stadium. And secondly a 15km extension from Marlboro Station with stops at Sunninghill and Monte Casino.

The Gold Reef City station should prove popular as a leisure destination. The Apartheid Museum, Gold Reef City and the Casino will become easily accessible. Everyone who has been to FNB Stadium will agree that getting in and out of the stadium is a nightmare and having a Gautrain stop there would make both the Stadium and NASREC more popular for events.

The stops should also prove popular with commuters staying in the area. NASREC could also become an excellent departure point for Soweto tours and the station itself could be a good base for entertainment venues where visitors to the city can experience local culture. Imagine a roof top terrace with rhythmic beats from local artists that boasts views towards the iconic FNB stadium and to the impressive Johannesburg city skyline.

The 15 km Fourways extensions will bring Gautrain to one of Johannesburg’s fastest growing nodes. And no, the existing Gautrain bus doesn’t cut it, it simply takes too long to reach there from Sandton. A stop in Sunninghill should prove popular given the number of businesses and residential complexes in the area.

A second stop at Fourways/Monte Casino could be the real star though. Add some bus services to Lanseria, The Lion Park, the surrounding businesses and residential areas and you could have the makings of one of Gautrain’s busiest stations. Not forgetting that this would be a good jumping board for tours to the Cradle of Humankind.

So certainly our public transport system has some way to go in comparison to other cities. But the building blocks are there for a truly world-class Gauteng Mega City that is a vibrant place to visit and to live.

Here is hoping for some imaginative solutions from the planning authorities that elevates our city from merely a commercial hub to a party, shopping and lifestyle hub that has the tourist dollars flowing in and is a great experience for those living in it.
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