Rea Vaya - Bus Rapid Transit System

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Main actors

City Government, National Government, Private Sector, Community / Citizen Group

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Project area

Metropolitan Area

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Ongoing since 2006/11

The Rea Vaya (‘we are going’) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system provides accessible, reliable and affordable public transport services for residents of Johannesburg and reduces the city’s C02 emissions.

The City of Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya BRT is used by 45,000 commuters daily. During peak hours buses arrive and depart at three minute intervals running along dedicated routes to ensure speed of service. A high-tech control room monitors all bus routes and stations. The control room delivers real-time tracking of bus movements and staff can communicate with individual drivers, ensuring buses run on time and quick solutions are found for any eventuality. The fleet of buses are the most modern available, with sophisticated engineering to ensure carbon emissions are as low as possible.  The System operates on well planned transport arteries known as the “Corridors of Freedom” that provide residents with increased freedom of movement as well economic freedom and liberates them from the apartheid spatial legacy characterized by informal settlements, poor schooling and limited recreational choices.

The Rea Vaya BRT will service an area spanning 330 kilometres allowing more than 80% of Johannesburg’s residents to catch a bus. 

Sustainable Development Goals

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Sustainable Transport Award

This project was shortlisted for the 'Sustainable Transport Award' in 2010 in the following category: Honorable mention.

Johannesburg, South Africa

Size and population development
Johannesburg has roughly doubled in size since the end of apartheid in 1994, with a population of around 5.5 million people in 2018. In addition to the city proper, the larger metropolitan area is home to 9.6 million people, taking up most of Gauteng province. The city itself is set to expand by another two million people by 2035.

Population composition
Of those living within the Johannesburg’s city boundaries, they are 64% black, 14% white, 14% coloured and 7% Asian. The segregation policies of apartheid led to different suburbs, like Soweto and Lenasia, having very different composures. The most spoken first language is English, at 31%, followed by Zulu with around 20%. Johannesburg sports a young population, with around 42% of people being under the age of twenty-four, and only 6% over sixty. There are strong rich/poor divides, following the deep socio-economic divides from the history of colonialism and apartheid, high levels of unemployment and many people living in settlements that lack central municipal services.

Main functions
Johannesburg was founded in 1884 after the discovery of gold, and has since boomed, becoming the largest city in South Africa, and the biggest in the world not set on water, be it sea, lake or river. The area around Johannesburg has been inhabited since before the emergence of modern humans. Indeed, the city is just 25km from the ‘Cradle of Humankind’ UNESCO World Heritage Site, a site where large numbers of proto-human remains have been fossilised in caves. Elevated 1,753 metres above sea level, Johannesburg is the unofficial economic capital of South Africa—which happens to be a country without a legally designated capital. It remains a diverse place, where much wealth and poverty sit side by side, has a bustling multiculturalism, long-term settlers and migrants. Johannesburg also hosts numerous educational centres, including several universities and private collages, large sporting venues, and other cultural centres.

Main industries / business
Johannesburg is estimated to possess the largest economy of any city in sub-Saharan Africa. It is home to Africa’s largest stock exchange, the headquarters for many mining companies, financial institutions and other multinationals active in Africa. This gives the city a thriving services industry, with banking, IT, telecom, media and consumer retail sectors. Johannesburg also sports the continents biggest and busiest airport. Mining was of the greatest importance to the city, yet it has gradual declined owing to limited resources as well as the growth of other industries, notably manufacturing, with heavy industries like steel and cement operating. Johannesburg houses the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Sources for city budget
The city draws it budget from pay-as-you-earn income taxes, and additional taxes on capital gains, value added, and property taxes, such as transfer, stamp and estate duty.

Political structure
After numerous reorganizations, most recently in 2006, Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality governs the city via a council-mayor system. This features a separation between the legislative and executive bodies, plus an administrative arm, with the model mirroring the national and provincial governments. The city is divided into seven regions, labelled A to G, each composed of various suburbs. Above them is the executive branch, the Mayor of Johannesburg and the highest elected position in the city. Beyond the city is the premier of Gauteng, the smallest of South Africa’s nine provinces, and then the national government. Across the 20th century, many public organisations have been reorganised to run as corporate entities with the city as a shareholder. Concepts of “efficiency maximisation” has found expression elsewhere, with the seven regions being conceived as contractors to the central government, rather than components of the core administration. Each of the seven regions is responsible for the delivery of health care, housing, social development and other such community-based services. Likewise, Johannesburg’s key utilities, such as electricity, water and waste collection, are run by registered companies along business lines, receiving their funds from directly billing the populous.

Administrative structure
Johannesburg has 270 councillors representing various political parties, who debate local government issues, ratifying or rejecting proposals. The council focuses on legislative, oversight and participatory roles, delegating its executive function to the mayor and their various mayoral committees. The executive mayor has numerous political portfolios, including: economic development, development planning, environment and infrastructure service, housing, public safety, community development, transport and health and safety.

The 4.5 million residents of the metropolitan region of Johannesburg live long distances from each other, predominately the black population lives in the south and the white population lives in the north. 3.5 million of Johannesburg’s residents live in Soweto, which comprises 30 townships. Overcrowded minibus-taxis are used by 70% of the population leading to further congestion of city streets already crowded with cars and trucks – especially during peak hours. The consequences of this are long journeys in traffic, high greenhouse gas emissions and harmful health effects. 

In 2006, the City of Johannesburg approved a project to build a public transport system that would improve the quality of life for its residents.

Research commissioned by the city showed many workers spent over two hours in transit when using a taxi to and from work, and spent 10 percent of their income on public transport costs. A Bus Rapid Transit system feasibility study was carried out, which highlighted the importance of integrating Rea Vaya BRT with the Gautrain and Metrorail.

Research was also conducted into Bus Rapid Transit systems run in Brisbane, Australia; Boston and Los Angeles, US; and Jakarta, Indonesia. Additionally, lessons learned from Quito, Ecuador, were noted, including the need to involve other public transport stakeholders such as bus operators. In 2007, representatives from the City of Johannesburg, as well as a number of other organisations, visited Bogotá and Pereira to investigate Colombia’s TransMilenio project. 

The Rea Vaya BRT project features extensive efforts to integrate a wide range of transportation services, including feeder vehicles, pedestrian corridors, bicycles, metered taxis and private cars. Moreover, it involves training former taxi drivers to become bus drivers or managers.

The key objectives of Rea Vaya BRT are:

  • Building a leading, responsive and activist transportation sector in the city which works in partnership with stakeholders and residents
  • Planning, policies and co-ordination for integrated and sustainable transport
  • Promoting public transport, walking and cycling as transport modes of choice
  • Building co-responsibility and a value-based culture to enable behavioural change towards transport issues
  • Providing high-quality, safe, accessible, affordable and environmentally friendly public transport services

The Rea Vaya BRT is scheduled to roll out in three phases: 

Phase 1A is fully implemented and commenced operating in stages between 31 August 2009 and February 2011. It uses 41 new articulated buses and 102 solo, double-sided door buses and stops at 31 staffed, enclosed stations in the central median. Phase 1A bus services are operated by Piotrans Pty Ltd, 100% owned by 313 shareholders who previously operated taxis on the routes, resulting in the withdrawal from service of 585 taxis, many of which were scrapped. The operating contract period is for twelve years.

Phase 1B is fully implemented and commenced operations on 14 October 2013, using 41 articulated high floor buses and 93 solo 12-m double-sided door high floor buses. Phase 1B added 18 km of trunk, feeder and complementary routes, with 18 new enclosed median stations. Phase 1B bus services are operated by Litsamaiso Pty Ltd. The buses are owned by the city while Litsamaiso maintains the fleet and employs drivers and other bus company staff. As with Phase 1 A, a bus operating contract agreement exists between Litsamaiso and the city with performance measured through a well-defined process. 

Construction has started on phase 1C in the north-east quadrant of Johannesburg and buses will commence operating in 2018. This phase will comprise 16.6km of trunk road network, with 242 buses, 45 of which are articulated. Phase 1C infrastructure also offers 30.5km of extensive walking and cycling paths and maximizes integration with other modes of public transport.

The City of Johannesburg is the lead agency for the project and the majority of funding is provided by the National Government of South Africa and the City of Johannesburg.

Construction of infrastructure: National government grant funding – Public Transport Infrastructure and Systems Grant (PTIS).

Bus operating costs: Fare revenue; city operational subsidy; national government operational subsidy.

Station operating costs: Mostly national government operational subsidy. Shift to the city over time.

Bus procurement: The City of Johannesburg facilitated ECA funding from BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank) at good interest rates (phase 1A). However, while the funding solution was cost effective to the operator it was very costly or the City and also holds a number of risks including a contingent liability. The City in Phase 1B and future phases is likely to own the buses, at least for some part of the contract. 

Bus maintenance: Bus operating company.

Social Impact

  • Passengers on Rea Vaya BRT buses are drawn from all socio-economic groups and races, contributing to improved social cohesion.
  • The Rea Vaya BRT buses are safe: security is maintained at all stations and improved lighting is provided along routes.
  • Each station has an iconic design and includes public art pieces, making public spaces attractive and contributing to the brand of the city.
  • The Rea Vaya BRT played a significant role in transporting spectators during the 2012 FIFA Soccer World Cup.

Economic impact

  • Over 25, 000 jobs were created during the initial construction phase and an additional 5,700 jobs are expected to be required for the completion of the next phase.
  • More than 1000 permanent jobs have been created in bus and station operations and a further 1000 jobs will be created in the next phase.
  • Improving the mobility of residents and reducing transport costs, contributes to wealth creation for individual citizens.

Urban impact:

  • The city is introducing land use and other development control measures to improve densification along Rea Vaya corridors as well as ensuring  increases in social amenities and social housing.

Technological innovation:

  • The buses purchased for phase 1A were Euro IV standard, and for phase 1B Euro V standard, have very low emissions. In the next phase, buses will be purchased that use a combination of diesel and biogas.
  • The Rea Vaya BRT uses the most advanced public transport management system in the world with automatic bank based fare collection.

Initially, the Rea Vaya BRT encountered significant reservations from the business community. Taxi operators were concerned with loss of income: - one bus replaces 40 cars or several minibus/taxis. Mutual co-operation has been achieved through the help of the New York Institute for Transportation & Development Policy as well as GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit). For the Rea Vaya BRT, measures were implemented to engender positive outcomes for the affected business community:

  • 350 minibus/taxis were withdrawn from service and their drivers retrain as bus drivers.
  • The new bus company, Pio Trans, is majority-owned by nine taxi companies, comprising more than 300 taxi operators. The operating contract is valid for twelve years.

In 2007, the City of Johannesburg signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the public transport operators in the minibus/taxi industry.

In July 2013, The Berlin Metropolis Initiative ‘Integrated Urban Governance- Successful Policy Transfer’ carried out a peer-review training workshop with City of Johannesburg staff on Rea Vaya BRT.

The main outcomes and lessons learned from the workshop:


The Rea Vaya BRT project has great potential to contribute to a more compact and sustainable city. Encouraging developers to build with higher densities near the BRT corridor could intensify this potential, particularly if processes are put in place to attract public and private investment. The integration of land use and transportation planning within the regulatory frameworks of the city is another potential long term measure of considerable benefit. 

Operational excellence 

Introduce options to increase patronage, especially during off peak hours, including: 

  • creating turn-arounds and reducing route lengths
  • bringing people closer to the stations through appropriate infrastructure for cycling and walking;
  • integrating Rea Vaya BRT with the informal transportation sector
  • providing incentives for people to travel off-peak by providing more attractive ticket prices

Involvement of users 

Increasing the number of BRT passengers could further be achieved by improving the visibility of the system. Future campaigns should demonstrate and create pride in the system among Johannesburg’s residents.

Involvement of operators 

The City of Johannesburg could connect with the informal sector and the minibus/taxi industry as a strategic partner by strengthening political engagement, support and trust-building.

Skills development

New career paths should be available for all public transport workers including drivers, security guards, customer-care officers and monitors, bus supervisors, technical managers and managing directors. 

The system’s performance should be constantly monitored and reviewed, especially the contracting and management of bus operations.

Financial sustainability 

In relation to the financial sustainability of the system, the City of Johannesburg should explore options for cross-subsidising Rea Vaya BRT from private car use and developments along public transport routes.

Integration with other modes of public transportation 

On a strategic level, the future planning of new BRT lines should be for routes with an appropriate demand. While some routes might better be suited to other modes of public transportation, all modes should be connected and integrated into one system. On an operational level, this could mean the introduction of new park-and-ride facilities to attract more private car-users for BRT, or the redesign of surrounding public spaces for use by pedestrians and/or cyclists. Research visits to other BRT-systems, e.g. in Bogotá, Columbia, were offered to city representatives, taxi operators and the BRT company to learn from the experience of other countries.

- The Bus Rapid Transit System ‚Rea Vaya‘ in Johannesburg, (accessed 27 march 2016).

- Report Metropolis Peer-Review-Training Johannesburg, Dipl.- Ing. Michael Abraham (Berlin), Prof. Paul James (Melbourne), July 2013.

- Fast facts on Rea Vaya's Phase 1C, (accessed 12 april 2016).

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Zarina Goondiwala
Johannesburg, South Africa

Zarina Goondiwala

Individual | Knowledge Manager

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