© Paul Saad


Cultural Integration By Mobility Linkage
Johannesburg – or Joburg to its residents – is a city at the intersection of three huge challenges: political stability and participation since the banning of apartheid in 1991, socio-demographic transformation changing the city through rapid population growth, and the attempts to create a functioning urban economy that includes everyone. Linking these challenges, and holding the key to some success with them, is the transport system. Political enfranchisement, long-term management of spatial growth and economic development, and environmental sustainability are all linked by transport.

Transport as spatial solution to cultural and sustainability challenges

Due to visionary action at the political, industrial and social levels, promising steps are being taken to enable positive, sustainable transformation. In simple terms, some of the history of apartheid, and the present economic imbalance, is mapped geographically by the presence in the south of the Soweto township, symbol of resistance to apartheid but also of the poverty and exclusion of the black communities, and in the north of the rich enclave of white residence and global business of Sandton – with the major city highway linking the two. The risk is that the economic and social development of the city splits further into two separate stories – the rich in the north, and the poor in the south. Transport choices and planning can help to prevent this.

Central to the debate and transformation process is the city’s Strategic Integrated Transport Plan Framework of 2013, an upgrade of the 2003 Integrated Transport Plan. The SITP is a best-in-class framework of sustainable transport policies for a large, complex and growing city, and it extends confidently the strategic path, already set in the 2003 ITP, away from car-based mobility.

Rea Vea BRT and Gautrain

Two of the mobility highlights already under development in Johannesburg are Rea Vea Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, and the Gautrain high-speed rail that links the region. Rea Vea, which was initiated in 2006, modelled on the high-volume low-capital-cost model of BRTs pioneered in Latin America. 

The Gautrain is an 80km high-speed rail linking up the Guateng province between Johannesburg, Tshwane and the OR Tambo International Airport. It moves 50,000 users on the typical working day, and is successful in its intention to shift individual car users onto the rail mode of intercity and airport transfers.


© City of Johannesburg

Planning as heavyweight solution to complex challenges

The challenges Johannesburg confronts are profound however: 31% of all trips in the peak morning period are on foot, and much of this is for a lack of economic means or mobility opportunity. The dominant mode of transport is the minibus-taxi, controlling over a 1000 routes in the city, and contributing to the poor air quality. Overall in South Africa, transport contributes 16% of the country’s CO2 emissions and 31% of the total energy consumption. In cities, transport accounts for no less than 56% of all energy consumption. At a time of rapid population growth – Joburg is growing at the high rate of 3.4% per year – and persistent mass poverty, with 30% of the population unemployed and 67% in a very low income bracket – ambitious, and highly socially-integrated transport action is required.

So, the city, as part of its ITP process, has committed itself to Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), a planning and policy development practice which insists that physical and spatial configurations of a growing city are centred around and integrated with public transport. The TOD approach includes many features, including planning requirements that mandate the inclusion of transit infrastructure and facilities, but at the centre of them are extensions and improvements to the Rea Vaya BRT network, and the improvement of facilities for walking and cycling.

Rea Vaya lines are being extended, and the intention is to make sure that not just the North-South arterial corridor is improved, but that all movements relying on Rea Vaya can be enhanced, including park-and-ride, density of stops, the social experience of the hubs, and the density of the feeder network of secondary routes. In addition, car-driving, in particular in Sandton, is being pressured to increase use of the BRT, and other measures to improve walking and cycle, including a non-car bridge across the main M1 highway, are being developed. Some of these developments were timed to coincide with, and mark, the holding of the world’s second EcoMobility summit which took place in Joburg in 2015.

Want to know more about Urban solutions?

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Global Communications Manager,
WWF One Planet City Challenge
+46 70 393 9030




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Text by: John Manoochehri
Last edited: 2017-03-15