SA at work: The amazing public race

2014-03-02 14:00

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Three City Press ­commuters raced from Thokoza Park in Soweto to Auckland Park?–?one on the Rea Vaya, one in a car and one in a taxi.

No ordinary bus ride: 34 minutes

The first sign that this would be no ordinary bus ride was when we barrelled at full tilt through a complicated intersection, the driver sounding the hooter threateningly to cars on either side.

As a first-time user of Rea Vaya, I have to say I was impressed (and a bit terrified) by the speed of the system.

Our driver, let’s call him Bra Bob, looked a bit like a younger Robert ­Mugabe. Bra Bob’s driving style initially suited me quite well because my long-time comrade and compatriot Zinhle Mapumulo was making snarky comments about winning this race.

I ran into my first hurdle at the ticketing station, where I spent 20 minutes waiting to buy a one-way ticket.

This involved an elaborate procedure in which the cashier had to cash out her drawer, restart her computer and plug in various devices.

In fairness, most people already have pre­loaded smart cards, so this waiting was not part of the usual routine.

I paid R13 for a one-way trip, then waited another five minutes for a bus to arrive, which made it pretty much right on time.

I was impressed by how clean and well run the entire system was.

It was clear that Bra Bob took this thing of “a bus every five minutes” very seriously and had clearly been a taxi driver at some point in his life.

As a virgin Rea Vaya user, the experience of riding the bus was a bit alarming.

The service has its own lanes and traffic signals, which means traffic is never a problem, but it also means that it can feel as if the bus is travelling quite fast relative to other traffic.

It took me 34 minutes to get to the ­Media Park SABC station.

To my horror, Zinhle had arrived five minutes before me, although it must be said that she used her knowledge of the city’s back roads to her advantage.

I also had a four-minute walk from the station to the office, which meant that no more than a minute separated our actual arrival times.

–?Charl du Plessis

Taking a taxi to snatch last place: 70 minutes

Things got off to a bad start in Thokoza Park when, after 20 minutes, I realised there were no taxis heading directly into town.

So I forked out R7 to take a taxi from Thokoza Park to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, a 15-minute drive.

There was no real queue at the hospital, so I paid another R8 and set off on the 30-minute taxi ride to the bustling Bree Street taxi rank.

The good thing about arriving in town way after 8am?–?although it meant there was no way I could win the race?–? is that Bree Street is not particularly busy.

I waited in a taxi for a few minutes while it filled up with passengers and then we were off to Auckland Park, a journey that took 15 minutes and cost me another R8.

I walked into the office stone last at 9.22am.

Apart from the early frustration of trying to catch a taxi directly from Thokoza Park into town with no detours, my journey was fairly uneventful.

The driver of the second taxi did answer his cellphone and had a conversation while behind the wheel – which meant that he did not hear a female passenger asking him to stop so she could get off at her destination.

By the time he had heard her, he’d driven too far and the furious woman slammed the door as she climbed out to show him how unhappy she was.

The third and last taxi that I took left for Auckland Park at 9am. Another R8 taxi fare was required for this ride.

Now taxis are not so bad, except when a stranger approaches you just before you board a taxi and spins you a story about having slept on an empty stomach and wants you to part with a few rands as he wants to get home or buy some bread. That’s what happened to me. Luckily for him, I had a few rands to spare.

None of the taxis was overloaded, but my knees were jammed up against the seat in front of me.

This made it difficult to remove my fare from my pocket and I didn’t read the book I’d brought along because there was no room to move.

The taxis stuck to normal lanes and didn’t duck into any bus lanes at any point.

–?Siyabonga Sithole

Taking the quick route to victory: 29 minutes

Who would have thought that the drive from ­Thokoza Park in Soweto to Auckland Park in peak-hour morning traffic would take about half an hour?

I know some of you who travel this congested 22km route daily are probably rolling your eyes and thinking that I’m crazy?–?but it’s true.

It took me exactly 29 minutes. And yes, I obeyed all the rules of the road.

As I watched Charl and Siya climb into a Rea Vaya bus and a taxi, respectively, I knew I’d lost the race. The traffic was horrible. There was no way I could beat them.

I had two options available. The first was to take Chris Hani Road, go through Diepkloof and join the M1 or turn left into Klipspruit Valley Road just after the Thokoza Park Rea Vaya station.

I chose the latter even though I knew there was a chaotic traffic circle at the end of the road where cars, buses and taxis coming from Dube, Meadowlands and Orlando East and West meet head-on.

The road joins the N17, which is a shorter route than going through Diepkloof. I spent just five minutes in traffic and then it was plain sailing.

But as I turned from Brixton left into Putney Road and right into Henley Road in Auckland Park, I was feeling defeated. Surely, Charl on the Rea Vaya was already at the office. I knew too well how these buses get preference on the road.

But lo and behold, when I reached the finish line, the cameras were ready to click as the winner walked or drove in. To say I was excited that I had beat Siya in what would surely have been a speeding taxi and Charl in a Rea Vaya bus is an understatement.

It was 8.39am. I climbed out of the car yelling with joy as if I had won the fifth season of Survivor South Africa.

Then I waited for Charl and Siya at the gate.

A few minutes later, Charl jumped off a Rea Vaya bus at the UJ station. As he approached the gate, he saw me ­standing there wearing a big victory smile. Seeing him ­surprised and disappointed at the same time was priceless.

–?Zinhle Mapumulo

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