Most of you reading this post have probably used (or at least heard of) the Gautrain system which has been operating since June 2010 in parts of Gauteng province. It first started out as quick way to get from Sandton to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. It has since expanded to an-almost full-on commuter service operating between Pretoria and Johannesburg.
According to the latest figures, about 28,000 people use the Gautrain system on a daily basis to commute between their place of work and their home. This figure is expected to increase when the system expands to include Johannesburg Park Station early in next year.
To my knowledge, there have only been 2 days on which major problems were experienced since the Gautrain service started operating between Pretoria and Johannesburg (in August). Both times cable theft was the cause for the disruptions. Today services were disrupted by an illegal bus worker strike (which has happened before if I recall correctly).
There have also been 1 or 2 times where services were delayed due to maintenance on the tracks. But, in general there have been no major hiccups if you look at the big picture. I’ve used this service extensively over the last 2 months and overall I’m impressed. The Gautrain has certainly changed the way I commute between Gauteng’s twin cities. The system works, if you ask me. This post contains my views about the system as it is currently and some recommendations for improvements.
Things About The Gautrain That Impress Me:
1. It’s Convenient: For a person living in Pretoria who doesn’t have a driver’s license yet (yes I know its a shame) it really makes getting somewhere in JHB much more easier for me.
2. It’s Comfortable: The seats on the trains and buses are comfortable. Not a bumpy ride at all (doesn’t matter if you’re using a train or a bus).
3. It’s Quick: Passing the Brakfontein interchange (N1/N14) at 160 km/h in rush hour, watching the traffic jams as you’re travelling and zipping past the cars on the highway going in the same direction as you is an awesome feeling. The mere fact that you can get from Hatfield (in Pretoria) to Sandton in 36 minutes (including stops) is truly amazing.
4. The System Is User Friendly: I didn’t struggle using the system the first time. It really is user friendly. I’m sure chimpanzees could use the Gautrain system (if they were allowed to do so).
5. It’s Reasonably Priced: Taking a metered taxi from Pretoria to OR Tambo International Airport can cost you anything between R250 and R450 (depending on the taxi service you use). R125 for a one way ticket from any station in Pretoria to OR Tambo is a bargain. +/- R100 (including parking fees) for a trip between Johannesburg and Pretoria is also reasonable in my books.
6. It’s Secure: There hasn’t been an instance that I felt unsafe on one of the Gautrain’s trains and the buses. Security is top notch. Rules are enforced.
Things About the Gautrain That Could Be Improved:
1. Trains at more frequent intervals during peak times: There has been a few instances when I arrive at either Marlboro or Midrand Gautrain stations during morning rush hour that I miss the train by a 30 seconds, forcing me to wait another 12-13 minutes for the next train.
I have to walk 10-15 min when I get off the train at Hatfield Gautrain station to get to work. I’ve missed 2 or 3 trains, reaching them as the doors close on the platform, causing me to run a little late. Some of the trains have also been a bit crowded at times (I had to stand between Marlboro and Centurion stations one time because I couldn’t find a seat). Having trains at 8 minute intervals instead of 13 minutes could improve this.
2. More Bus Routes: Many folks commuting between Pretoria and Johannesburg don’t use the Gautrain simply because they can’t get to work if they were to get off at a station. What about someone who works in Roodepoort? There isn’t a Gautrain bus route operating in that area (to my knowledge). Gautrain bus routes should be expanded to more regions.
3. More Stations: The system should be expanded to other regions in Gauteng. A Gautrain station near Menlyn Park Shopping Centre and one close to Akasia / Pta North in Pretoria would be perfect. Stations in Fourways and Roodepoort should ease traffic congestion for both the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.
4. Buses on Weekends and Public Holidays: There are currently no Gautrain buses on weekends and public holidays. This limits movement in all of the regions that the Gautrain operates in. Imagine being able to spend a Saturday at Monte Casino after taking the bus from Sandton to Fourways.
Imagine being able to go on a shopping spree at Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, instead of being limited to the Hatfield region when travelling to Pretoria. It doesn’t have to be a full time bus service, one bus an hour or a bus every 2 hours should do the trick.
5. Trains after 8:30 PM: I do understand that the one of the main reasons the Gautrain is there is to reduce the amount of cars using the N1 and N14 highways on a daily basis to commute, but I really think stopping the service at 8:30 PM is ridiculous. Many Pretoria based companies hold functions and seminars at locations all around Johannesburg on weekday evenings (and vice versa).
Implementing a service after 8:30 PM will make getting to these functions / seminars and back much easier. There doesn’t have to be a train every 20 minutes after 8:30 PM, 1 train an hour till midnight would be perfect. Having this service will also ensure that Jozi party goers hanging out in Pretoria (and vice versa) have a safe way to get home after a night out on the town.
6. Changes to the No Drinking / Eating Policy: Getting caught drinking or eating on a Gautrain bus or train can result in a R700 fine. I’m all for banning eating on the trains / buses, but commuters should at least be allowed to drink water if its in a sealed container. Some of the bus trips take between 20-30 minutes and even though it’s a comfy ride and it’s air conditioned, the South African sun still gets hot and people still get thirsty.
7. Improved Signage: The Gautrain stations could do with signage indicating when the next trains are leaving which should be visible when you walk into one of them. Currently there are none that I’m aware of and I’ve been to every single station in the system.