Monday, July 8, 2013

Rea Vaya Public Bus System Criticism and Complaint

8th July 2013


To Whom It May Concern

Rea Vaya Public Bus System Criticism and Complaint


We run and work for Past Experiences, a tour company, specialising in walking tours of the Johannesburg Inner City. We aim to get our clients out of tour buses and rather out on the streets, walking through the city.  Our clients are from all walks of life, racial groups, countries and ages-school kids, corporates, foreign tourists, university students, academics, charities and large groups of locals who want to see their own city.  For over 4 years our greatest passion has been the Joburg Inner City, its communities, buildings, history, art and much more. We have invested a great deal in the CBD and Inner City Business and Tourism Industry and are passionate about helping create the community driven, fair, safe city that we and our fellow city residents and workers would want to exist in.

Since 2010 we have also used public transport as a cost effective and green way to navigate Soweto and the Inner City.  For 3 years, the Rea Vaya Bus system has been a pleasure to use! Friendly staff, punctual buses and great routes have been the norm- basically a really user-friendly system. We must have taken hundreds if not over a thousand tourists through the city and Soweto on the Rea Vaya over the last few years. From taking 1 client to Soweto, to groups of 60 tourists on a ride through Hillbrow, to using it in a personal capacity, we have become regular (sometimes daily users of the bus). We have also extensively promoted the Rea Vaya to local and international press, tourists and basically anyone on our tours.

We use the T1 and C3 routes to travel around the city and Soweto and have in the past few years, used the paper ticketing system- we would buy tickets at the Rea Vaya Station or specific shops that sold tickets in areas without stations. Months ago it was advertised that the Rea Vaya would start using a card system (this was then delayed a number of times). We thought a card system would be a good idea for regular users. Unfortunately, I can only say we were very, very wrong.

On the morning of Friday 5th July, we picked up a group of 18 mature students from Wits, visiting Johannesburg for a few months, predominantly from other African cities as well as America, Venezuela and Germany. We walked to the Park Station Rea Vaya, where we planned to board the bus and travel to Soweto. On our arrival we were advised that the new card system had been implemented a couple of days before- I had seen no visible notices of the implementation of the system and from the amount of surprised commuters standing around the station saying the same thing- implementation wasn’t widely known.

The very rude man, selling tickets seemed confused as to what tickets were available and their prices -he even told my colleague that she shouldn’t buy the tickets because it is very complicated. Surely he should want to sell tickets, since it is his job. We had budgeted specifically for the 20 pax and so did not have unlimited funds to get to Soweto and back. There was no option of getting a single paper ticket- rather tourists who will never use the ticket again, had to purchase a card. We were informed that we had to get everyone a card, a single route which is R25 per single trip, which meant we would have needed 3 each during the day, equivalent to a charge of R75 pp. A few days before, this same trip would have cost R27- a significant and unjustified price difference. There was an option advertised on the price list of R37 for 2 trips, which we couldn’t get as the station didn’t have these tickets in stock. The man then informed us that if we went to the Joubert Park Station we could get a free card and load it with whatever amount we needed. We asked whether we could, as a favour, get on the next bus and travel to Joubert Park as we were already running late- where we would then get off and purchase the cards-obviously informing the bus driver of our intent etc. The man said no, - when we asked if we could speak to his manager he said no as his phone was only for his use. We then called the Customer Care centre- when we explained the situation to the lady, she asked to speak to the man and they then spoke to each other on our phone, using our airtime. The lady thereafter informed us that she wouldn’t help us and that we must get 20 people in a taxi to Joubert Park to buy tickets. We said that this is obviously costly and we couldn’t afford it. We then asked her “is that she can’t help us or won’t help us”…she answered WONT.

At this point we decided to walk to Joubert Park Rea Vaya Station which we did- luckily our clients were really accommodating, although they were pretty shocked at the situation. As people who really promote Joburg, we were already very embarrassed and disappointed!

After walking a number of blocks through Joubert Park (in the cold), we arrived at the Joubert Park Station where we were met with more issues. Again after much conversation and confusion, phone calls to management (because the staff are still pretty unsure of the system), it finally came out the only option was paying R50 pp (minimum) for a card and fare, R20 of which is a card holding fee. Additionally, each person on the tour had to give their personal details and ID number as well as choose a card pin. The process for 20 people to get cards was difficult, confusing and took a great deal of time. They first had to sign a register to get the card, then walk across to the other side of the station put in a chosen pin (a number of times into a machine -pin at least twice plus a number of other buttons), then pay R50. Again we were not the only people standing in the queue- everyone. Including daily commuters were getting irritated by the system and complaining. Luckily the staff at Joubert Park were helpful, unlike the man at Park Station. We realise they didn’t choose or implement the system and are working within a very difficult situation. One staff member in particular Mandla Ngwenya was absolutely fantastic, foregoing his lunch hour and even providing us with his phone number in case we had any issues during the day.

But by this point we had been trying to get a ticket for 2 HOURS! That is 2 hours of an 8 hour tour! 2 hours less to show how great Johannesburg is. The group were cold and hungry by the time we got on the bus and very disappointed in the Rea Vaya System! In over 4 years of running tours, this was the most difficult day we have ever experienced.

Has anyone involved with City of Johannesburg transport actually used the system extensively? -On a daily basis and made any connection with daily commuters? The problems we experienced today are not just teething problems-these are systemic floors in a ridiculous ticketing system. We are not sure how locals or tourists are expected to navigate this system and its many problems. It goes against everything a public transport system should be. Synonyms for the word public are “community, civic, communal, free and open”, everything the Rea Vaya is not anymore. It is a disaster!

Basically here are the major issues with the new Rea Vaya ticketing system:

·         The Staff do not seem to understand the system- prices, cards etc. We realise it’s new but surely they should have had proper training.

·         The card is only free at Joubert Park-not anywhere else. We have no idea how anyone in Braamfontein, where there are no stations is supposed to sign up for cards and recharge them.

·         The minimum amount that can be put on the free card is R50, R20 of which is a holding fee. Who in Johannesburg can afford this? Totally unrealistic- many people do not have R50.

·         There was definitely not enough notice indicating when the new system would first be implemented-large posters plus media coverage would have been useful in the weeks running up to the launch.

·         As this is a public transport system- surely the community should have a say?

·         Every time you charge your card it costs R1-50. Who does this money go to? Why are we charged?

·         The card is an ABSA Mastercard- is this really needed in a developing city like Johannesburg. Wouldn’t a simpler card be better? What does ABSA make out of this? We understand that the idea is to use this card to purchase items at Pick’ n’ Pay-WHY is this needed? It seems that to travel to Soweto you need to open something similar to a bank account and provide many personal details.

·         You have to fill in a register with all your details. This register is a piece of paper that anyone signing after you can see your ID number, name, contact details, signature. Not the best idea with the prevalence of ID theft. Also bearing in mind the large amount of foreigners visiting and living in Joburg- obviously they do not have ID books or numbers.

·         Everyone is forced to give their details to travel a few kilometres.

·         Surely there should still be the option of once off paper tickets for those who will only use the system 1 or twice- both New York and London have an option like this when using public transport as well as a simple card for everyday commuters.

·         This new system will keep the majority of the Joburg inner City off our own public transport system- it is way too expensive, too complicated and too much information is required. This is public transport for the citizens and communities of Johannesburg, but it no longer caters for them. Realistically people in Johannesburg are very poor- how will they afford this?

·         I have no idea how the children who use the bus to get to school and back are supposed to get these cards without parental help.

·         How will we ever take tourists on this system again?- We were not allowed to buy 20 cards with 1 ID number to keep for company use. This will change the way anyone doing tours in the city works. We cannot spend over an hour on every tour buying everyone cards.

·         This system has a knock on effect for so many people- If we cannot reach Soweto, we cannot support local crafters in the area or community projects and restaurants.

·         Credit cards are not accepted yet

If after one day we can see these issues, surely everyone can! We are incredibly positive and passionate about Johannesburg, and do not complain unless really necessary, but feel we cannot keep quiet when such a travesty is happening right now on our public transport system. In simple terms, this is unethical and unworthy of “a world class African City”. There must be a review of this system change, ensuring that the people of Johannesburg must be catered for, no excuses- just a better system.

Hoping that our views are seriously considered and a workable, budget friendly ticketing system is reintroduced.

We look forward to your response.

Yours faithfully,

Jo Buitendach and Tania Olsson- passionate members of the Inner City Community