Stitching together the city

2013-09-03 00:00

THE first phase of a four-part plan to ease the traffic congestion in Pietermaritzburg and “stitch the city together” for commuters is almost complete.

An integrated rapid public transport network (IRPTN) is planned for Pietermaritzburg. It “will do away with the present public transport system completely, and the intention is to replace it with one owned and managed by the [Msunduzi] municipality”, said Nandi Mandela, a director at Linda Masinga and Associates (LMA). LMA is part of a consortium of companies led by Hatch-Goba. The consortium is responsible for the first phase of this massive overhaul of the city’s public transport system.

Mandela was giving a presentation at the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB) recently on the findings of the first phase of the plan. This is a “bird’s-eye view” planning and preliminary design phase that is almost complete. A detailed design, land acquisition and tendering phase will be next, followed by the construction and monitoring phase, before the final implementation of the system.

The intention is that routes in the network will be tendered out. This represents opportunities for existing and new operators, who will be given management training and customer service training, Mandela said. A taxi adviser has been appointed to negotiate with taxi operators, she said.

The project represents a major infrastructure investment of R3,1 billion by government into Msunduzi. It will be in operation in KwaZulu-Natal’s second-largest city within five years, Mandela said.

She said that the idea was to “stitch the city together so that it becomes easy to use public transport”. It will be a world-class system, she said, complete with a reliable timetable, operations centre and complaints systems. It is envisaged that within 10 to 15 years, most city residents will opt to use the system as it will be better to use than private vehicles. “In future, right of way will be given to buses,” she said.

The ambitious plan calls for a rapid public transport system using a fleet of articulated 130- to 190-seat buses, rigid 50- to 80-seat buses, 17- to 30-seat midibuses, and minibuses to link feeder routes in the greater Pietermaritzburg area to a trunk route through the city. It will include three kilometres of bus right-of-way lanes through the CBD and 15 km of peri-urban bus right-of-way lanes. Bus lanes will be in the centre, separate from mixed traffic lanes on the outside. The idea is that commuters will not have to walk more than five minutes to bus stations in the city centre or more than 15 minutes in outlying areas.

Twelve bus depots are being investigated. These are also to be developed as mini economic nodes and hubs for development in these areas. The finalisation of the number of depots as well as areas where they will be located is still subject to environmental impact assessments.

An operations centre will be situated near the library in the CBD, which will monitor security cameras in buses and at bus stations, as well as the real-time positions of buses on routes. A smartcard payment system is mooted for passengers , which Mandela said would keep track of passenger numbers and payments collected in real time.

Mandela said that “there are many opportunities for business”.

“Opportunities for engineers, road construction, IT specialists for the operations centre, customer care, training for bus drivers, security, cleaning companies—there is a list of business opportunities as long as the elements of the plan.”

Melanie Veness, CEO of the PCB, insisted that local businesspeople should benefit from this major upgrade to Pietermaritzburg’s public transport network. Mandela agreed, saying that local business would be kept alerted to upcoming developments and tender opportunities through the PCB.

“The capital city of our province deserves an integrated transport network such as the one described,” said Veness. “The PCB was delighted to host this engagement, because it talks directly to our core objectives, which are economic and enterprise development. It is important that we keep our business community informed, because developments like this will have a direct impact on the businesses environment. Construction of the network, for example, may be disruptive to some businesses. Adequate notification will allow these businesses to plan around any interruptions.

“We are also trying to ensure that Pietermaritzburg businesses have fair access to business opportunities in our city. We look forward to further engagement.”

Mandela also pointed out that Pietermaritzburg was chosen by government as one of 12 cities to benefit from a rapid public transit system because of the city’s strategic importance along the Durban-Johannesburg corridor. She added that local buy-in was needed.

Lindelwa Mhlomi, the transport planning manager of Msunduzi Municipality, said that a website is planned that will keep track of the progress of the Msunduzi IRPTN. It is anticipated to go live in the new year.

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