Johannesburg commuters and business travellers to the city for so long had to rely on private transport, taxis and buses, in order to get around and do business in South Africa’s economic hub. But, Gautrain has changed all that, with the implementation of a high-speed rail link, connecting O.R. Tambo International Airport and the business hotspots of Sandton, Rosebank, Pretoria and the Johannesburg CBD. Communications and Marketing Executive, Dr. Barbara Jensen joined BTA for a chat, approximately two years on from the launch of the project.
What was the thinking behind the origins of Gautrain?
Gautrain was first and foremost an economic development initiative. Objectives of this project included the: strengthening of existing development nodes in Gauteng; promotion of urban restructuring and redevelopment; facilitation of the revitalisation of the Johannesburg and Tshwane (Pretoria) central business districts; improvement of accessibility and mobility in the Johannesburg and Tshwane corridor; and improvement of the image of public transport with the Gautrain. An important objective of the project is to alleviate the traffic congestion on existing roads between Johannesburg and Tshwane. It is government’s policy to promote public transport as an alternative to the private car, by ensuring the provision of adequate public transport infrastructure, facilities and services.
Has Gautrain achieved what it set out to achieve?
Yes – as is inter alia prevalent in all the developments taking place in the vicinity of Gautrain station nodes, as well as the number of people that use the Gautrain system on a daily basis.
How would you describe the response of Johannesburg/Pretoria commuters?
Proud. Another response is that they are appreciative of the change in lifestyle that Gautrain offers them. No longer do they have to leave home before sunrise, sit in traffic, or stress about being late at work.
In your opinion, what impact has Gautrain had on business travel into and out of Johannesburg?
Gautrain has had a positive impact. With the ease of a 15-minute trip between Sandton and O.R. Tambo International Airport, a business person can save valuable time by not sitting in traffic.
How difficult has it been, in terms of changing the mindset of the South African traveller who is accustomed to travelling by car?
Very difficult, as people, in general, prefer the perceived convenience of using a car. However, as Gautrain has already had to increase its frequency and capacity during peak hours, there is an indication that South Africans are willing to leave their car at home.
Besides that, what have been your biggest challenges?
Constructing a system such as Gautrain in the most densely-populated area in South Africa, and managing one of the biggest rail public private partnerships in the world.
With plenty of flights arriving in Johannesburg after 20h30, why do Gautrain trains stop running at that time?
In terms of time and location – Gautrain had to start somewhere. The need for a service after 20h30 on the airport link is recognised, and is currently being researched for feasibility.
What’s your response to claims that Gautrain only serves the wealthy and not the poor?
Gautrain’s official target publics are LSM 6 to 10. But, moving from Gautrain’s objectives of socio-economic development, it has contributed tremendously to job creation and skills development. For example, look at some of the figures, as verified by the Independent Socio-Economic Monitor: 38,330 jobs have been created for personnel based in South Africa; 34,400 jobs have been created for South African citizens; 3,650 jobs have been created for women; 230 jobs have been created for people with disabilities.
Has there been interest from other African countries, in terms of replicating what you have achieved with Gautrain in Johannesburg?
Yes – Nigeria.
Do you see other South African cities following your lead?
We always hoped to set the benchmark for future rail projects in South Africa. We are sure, budget depending, that this will be achieved.
Are there Gautrain plans for the future, to further impact business travel in Johannesburg?
We always had extensions to the current Gautrain system in mind. The feasibility of some of these possible extensions is now being researched.
Do you think we could eventually see the day when the majority of South Africans subsist more on public transport than on private vehicles?
One day, yes. From a sustainability point of view, rail is the way South Africans have to go. Worldwide, even in the United States, we see a return to rail for commuter travel.