South Africa never did embrace the push for public transport in the city being done by train. Why this happened boggles my mind. I would have thought that in the good old days on the 70s and 80s (and yes, I am saying this with a lot of sarcasm) the government, seeing that they had just finished the rather good job of building the freeway ring around Jozi, would have invested in ways to move their electorate around the business districts easily and cheaply. Instead, the motor vehicle reigned supreme and by the monumental traffic experienced by us all every day of our lives (including weekends) you can see that this was not the best decision made by the government planners. They did, however, build a proper mass train transit system to ferry in cheap labour from the outskirts – it’s a pity this wasn’t extended to within the business districts.
Anyway, thirty years later, we have what is called the Gautrain. In short, it is exquisite. It is probably the best looking rapid transit train in the world. It’s also seriously loved by the general public. People speak with such pride when talking about it. And the hashtag for the launch this week was #sharethepride which, well, it shows how much as South Africans loved this project.
We shall get to my thoughts in a bit – in the meantime, let us celebrate the launch today with some pictures. I luckily finished work early and as it was my brother’s 21st birthday, I thought going to shop in Rosebank would be a great idea. I was a few kilometres from the Midrand station so I parked my car there and took the train…
Midrand Station is adjacent to Grand Central airport. It’s quite well placed as the feeder network of Gautrain busses take you to most of the business areas of Midrand and, importantly, the busses from here go down to Sunninghill which is also littered with business parks. This was quite well thought out as the only way to truly sustain a service is to have business lap it up. The lack of business travellers between Cape Town and Durban is why SAA don’t fly this route anymore. Even though I have been on the train before, I seriously was excited when the train pulled into the station for what would be my first time on the general route.
I love the colour blue so the colour scheme inside the coaches is very pleasing to me. The gold complementary colours are awesome as well although this is probably due to indoctrination from my formative high school years. Nevertheless, I really love the décor in the train. It gives a relaxed and calm feel to the trip – important if you are going to be using this every day. However, it does seem strange that so much of fabric has been used and that the seats are arranged as such. I won’t claim to be an expert on train rapid transit systems but the one’s I have encountered in cities overseas preferred non-upholstered seats facing each door rather than front facing seats. Granted, those train systems are very well utilised by many more people at all times of the day meaning the space needs to be maximised.
I love the moving scenery from a train. The Gauteng landscape even comes to the party. The open spaces that the Gautrain cuts through contrast the office parks of nearby suburbs. Beauty in the contrast – it’s what Jozi does best.
I get to Rosebank rather quickly. When you think about it, it really boggles the mind that I am indeed in Rosebank. Just thinking about the highways I would have to drive, the taxis, the BMW’s and all the robots in between made me extremely glad I used the train.
I’m pretty impressed with how close they got this station to the business district. With the Sandton station, you do need to walk a bit before you reach any building of use. With this station, you are basically plonked right next to the Rosebank Shopping District with the office parks being a very close walk away. Anyway, shopping in hand, I get back to the station. The look is typical of a station overseas which is a very good thing. The station was pretty empty but then again, they did only reach about 20% of the envisaged 108 000 passengers per day they hope to commute by next year.
I love the Jozi sunset and I was quite pleased that I experienced sunset from the Gautrain.
All in all, it was a great experience. This train shall become part of our lives over the next few years. Whereas my trip today was done through pure curiosty, my love for public transport wants to make this something I do regularly. That being said, I do need to point out the negatives.
- The trains airconditioners had the smell of construction dust. It was faint but noticeable. This should disappear within a few days.
- The lack of escalators at some of the stations is unforgivable. There should be a pair of escalators at all points where ascending and descending stairs is required. It probably did not seem like a major omission during design but I do believe people will not use the train due to the excessive walking required just to get to it. It’s petty but it happens.
- The lighting at the stations is very inconsistent. There are many dark spots giving the illusion of a dingy, unkempt station. It felt like this on day one – it will feel worse over time.
- The bulk ticketing system doesn’t make sense. The very restrictive time period is quite mind boggling. I don’t understand why the 10-trip ticket is not valid for a few more days. As much as the consortium needs to make money, I would think the point of a public transport system is to get people to use the service instead of making them live within such stringent restrictions which could mean that because they are working at a different office for that day, they now are paying for a service that they aren’t utilising. Missing a single day would effectively mean their bulk tickets are more expensive than a single journey ticket.
- The trip from Midrand to Rosebank and back cost me around R60. If I took the bus from Sunninghill, it would have been about the same amount. This cost is slightly high as the running costs going to Rosebank and back from Sunninghill are around the same price, I also have the extra convenience of having a car and I don’t have to walk about a 700m to the Gautrain bus stop from my house. I’d use the Gautrain for the long trips (Jozi CBD and Pretoria) but it doesn’t make much sense to use it on the shorter trips.
- The busses are a pure failure. My biggest issue is that they have completely misread the target market. The people now using the Gautrain do not use busses. Some have never used one in their life. These people will not just stand on the side of the road at some unsheltered bus stop waiting for a bus to pick them up. I really have huge gripes with this and I will be addressing this in a few weeks time. Also, why have a different rate for train users and non-users? The busses are running empty – I think getting anyone to use the busses is MUCH better than having these have a single passenger at all times.
- Theres aren’t enough bins in the stations.
Even though there are all these gripes, I still seriously love the Gautrain. It’s very much a step in the right direction when it comes to changing people’s perception of moving around a city and, quite importantly for South Africa, bringing people together. We’re such a diverse country and it always amazes me that people can live in such bubbles in our country where they are oblivious to the diversity we have. I do believe just being around people and sharing time with them helps a lot in understanding the context in which you lead your life.
I think the greatest thing about the Gautrain so far is when you get onto the train and someone sits on the seat across you and for 15 minutes, you exchange life stories. You then reach your stop, bid the traveller good bye without asking his or her name and you keep on leading your life. Its happened all six times that I’ve used the train. It’s something just amazing…
When to go: The train runs from 5h30 to 20h30 daily. The trains run every 15 minutes during peak time, 20 min during off-peak and 30 minutes on holidays and weekends. There are connecting busses but do note, these do not run during weekends.
How to get there: There is parking available at all of the stations. Alternatively, you can take one of the Gautrain busses to the station. You can also use the Metrorail to get the the Pretoria, Hatfield, Rhodesfield and Park Station Gautrain stations. If you ask nicely, I’m pretty sure taxi drivers will also take you to the stations.
Cost: The tickets range from R19 to R49. The Gautrain busses cost R6 and parking at the stations is R10.
Anything else: The Gautrain has run a pretty impressive social media campaign with there being a twitter account @theGautrain. Interact with them in that way and they will help. They also active on Facebook and Foursquare. Alternatively, all the information you need to know is available on the website: http://join.gautrain.co.za