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Public transport passenger needs under the spotlight

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To help  improve its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for the future, the City of Johannesburg (COJ) conducted a study among residents to gauge a better understanding of what they want. At the same time, the study tracked how results differ between divergent user groups.
Professor Christo Venter from the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Pretoria, discussed these findings at the 35th annual Southern African Transport Conference (SATC) held in Pretoria at the beginning of July. His paper was voted the best paper at this year’s SATC.
“The study is part of an Integrated Public Transport Network (IPTN) strategy to guide the deployment of the BRT and related services in coming years,” Venter explains.
During the study, 1 208 Johannesburg residents from a broad spectrum of BRT and non-BRT users were sampled.
According to Venter, the public transport systems implemented under the Integrated Public Transport Network (IPTN) programme generally have lower passenger demand, poorer financial performance and higher subsidy requirements than initially hoped for. “One cause of poor passenger attraction may be that IPTN systems do not offer sufficiently attractive services, given other alternatives available to potential passengers,” he states.
Key to future BRT developments is understanding preferences of its target market. This, Venter explains, is critically important when designing systems that will both attract passengers at the same time reach the country’s social goals.
“The study showed that approximately one in four (25%) car users are unlikely to ever switch to a BRT mode of transport,” Venter says.  “A further 25% of car users however indicated their willingness to consider using BRT in the future if it suited their needs.”
The requirements vary depending on the market sector.  “Those using BRT who also own a car, value speed and short walking times to bus stops more highly than passengers who do not own a car. Suggesting that the availability of good feeder modes and high frequencies are very important, but especially among those who own a car,” Venter says.
An important finding in this study is that all potential passengers have a very low willingness to pay for enhancements of the BRT. This suggests that affordability constraints will be a permanent feature of BRT systems in South Africa.
“It throws into question the current BRT paradigm as it is implemented locally, which tends to follow an infrastructure-heavy and costly approach in order to deliver higher speed and reliability along trunk routes.  While many passengers are in need of better access and higher frequencies inside their neighbourhoods and are more willing to pay for these, it might be necessary to rethink the way BRT is designed and planned in order to concentrate more on delivering a complete network than just offering a higher speed system.”
Quality of service is the main reason users opt for BRT than time or cost differences from competing modes. Venter explains that BRT authorities should understand and improve service quality at all costs, especially if they are to protect and grow market share.
“This is both an opportunity and a warning,” Venter says. “It means that the qualitative aspects that distinguish Rea Vaya from the taxi mode: greater safety, comfort and payment convenience are worth a lot in the passenger’s mind, and exert an important influence on the decision to use BRT. It means that BRT authorities would do well by understanding these qualitative aspects better, and pay close attention to service quality during the design and operation of the service. Service quality is primarily an outcome of how well a service is operated.
“Of the 2,3-million daily motorised trips in the COJ, half have no other means of computing other than public transport. A quarter of all car users say they will never use BRT modes of transport and of the remaining car drivers, half of them feel they have no alternative but to drive. This means there are potentially a quarter of million car users in Gauteng that would be willing to use good public transport or BRT options, should such options become available to them,” Venter concludes.