02 December, 2008

When BRT Brings On Bloodshed

Mass Transit Magazine has an article on the new BRT system planned in Cape Town, South Africa. It appears to be yet another case of the Transit Agency ignoring the will of the people in order to advance some ultra-highway agenda. For years Cape Town has buzzed along with a network of Jitney Buses in private hands, a mirror image of Santiago De Chile.

In Santiago the BRT system was rammed through right over the protests of the private Jitney companies. The new super-bus routes were designed as trunk lines and the Jitneys were expected to jump in line and carry the connections to their destination. That didn't happen. People used to getting door to door service were furious over the new bus system. The system itself quickly overloaded and became as gorged and slow as the Jitneys it was to replace. Proof enough that BRT DOES have a ceiling - and it's no where near rail.

The next step in Chile was rioting which included turning buses over and burning them for effect. Now to compound the mistake the Santiago Metro Subway System is being expanded as it offered the only viable alternative to BRT and was thus crushed in the process. Again, even rail has a ceiling, and when passengers are relegated to the position of a tuna-in-a-can, things will go over the top. The rioters didn't seem to blame the rail for the problem and saved their wrath for the BRT system itself.

One has to wonder if these projects had included the Jitneys and allowed them to be the operating arm of the new system, how things might shake out. Could the Jitney companies each be issued so many of the new buses? Could the Jitneys use the exclusive lanes? Why does BRT have to be exclusive of Taxi's? Rail? Subway?

If BRT is really the attractive alternative that it is billed to be, then why can't it hold it's own as a component of a much larger mix?

In Bogota, the highly praised system is a national joke, anyone that thinks otherwise has been listening to the prose written for you digestion by the BRT institutes. Sure Colombia would love to call it a great success, they would love to continue to pioneer this mode and sell it to you when the time comes. But when the truth gets out it's going to crash big time. No problem, the BRT camp will just point to some other "success".

Cape Town's Rapid Bus System Will Lead to Bloodshed
Peter Luhanga
Argus Weekend (South Africa)

SOUTH AFRICA - Taxi bosses have warned of a "taxi war" over the City of Cape Town's planned multi-billion-rand Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which is set to change the face of public transport in the city.

While the city has stated its aim of completing phase one of the BRT by March 2010, three taxi associations operating in the greater Blaauwberg region released a joint statement last week saying the way city transport planners were implementing the system was "unacceptable".
The taxi owners - representing the Ysterplaat Taxi Association, Maitland Taxi Association and Du Noon Taxi Association (DTA) - said they had been invited to a meeting at the city civic centre offices on Tuesday where the BRT system was explained. But DTA spokesman Terrence Mhlangatshoba said they walked out of Tuesday's meeting as the BRT system undermined their business and did not take into account what they had invested over the years.
Itshaan Stanfield, appointed spokesman for the three taxi associations, said they would have no part of the BRT system.

He said the way the city was going about trying to gather support from the taxi industry for the BRT was dividing the taxi industry and would lead to violence.
"We know for a fact that this process will lead to bloodshed between permit holders and people without permits. The blame will be on the city, it will be held accountable.
"The city must stay away from us. We have come a long way with this business. They must rather invest their millions in building houses for millions of people who are living in shacks."
City director of transport Maddie Mazaza said the city had been engaging with the taxi industry "in detail and on different levels" and was "committed to pursuing this process of engagement".
Mazaza said all exchanges so far had been "frank and open".
She said the city was not aware of anyone walking out of meetings without excusing themselves and was confident a "real win-win" agreement between the city and taxi industry could be found, and engagement with the minibus taxi industry would be ongoing.

Phase one will cover the city's central business district, with a trunk route to Du Noon in the north and a link to Cape Town International Airport.
The BRT system is to be expanded to other parts of the city after 2010. - West Cape News

This battle has been fought in Santiago, and it's coming to Cape Town. One must now wonder how long until it hits our shores?

Jacksonville has had an ill advised highway based transit plan in place for about 10 years. The project includes $100 Million dollars which the City has in the bank for Mass Transit. Last night the Mayor announced that he wanted to take $100 Million of transit money and transfer it to new highway projects throughout the City. He is using the rabid port expansion as his excuse, yet 1/2 of all the many projects are no where near the port or remote warehousing.

So are we to have more highways and less Mass Transit? It sure looks like it, and what little we have will be tied up in a BRT scheme on the North side of Downtown. Something likely to eliminate local parallel routes.

This bears a close watch, shutting down our Mass Transit system, just as JTA has come to terms with some rail studies and re-planned it's North BRT line is insanity. As the news trickles in it appears to be the same $100 Million Transit set-aside that he is after. He has even pointed out the desire to cut JTA's funding and tie it to sales tax revenue. To do so will create an inability on
the part of JTA to do more then what we have seen from 30+ years of cash starved Amtrak.

The thousands of jobs the mayor is claiming will come from highway projects have not been borne out by facts. No where does highway development do anything more then create or add to sprawl. Sprawl? Yes, Jacksonville invented it - we are the largest City in the Western Hemisphere in size.

So what jobs? Those at the corner Big Lots? Mickey D's? How will those low income workers get to those new jobs without a stable bus system. The only high income jobs this will create are in road construction. With the Mayors father owning the largest concrete company on the coast this ought to be a cozy relationship.

Bloodshed? Try and pull the transit out of our urban core and watch what happens. I fear it won't be just Cape Town getting the headlines. No problem, the BRT camp will just point to some other "success", but it won't be Santiago, Cape Town, Bogota or Jacksonville.

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The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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