Monday, 3 June 2013

My first trip on Cape Town’s new MyCiti bus service

The MyCiti bus service rolled out to my area a few months ago and I have been waiting for the right opportunity to test the service. I was quite excited about the service as it brings reliable public transport to my area which previously did not have any public transport options.
New MyCiti bus in Walmer Estate
When I first heard about it, the service was supposed to have commenced in December 2012. Given that I was going to be moving to a project office in the CBD in January 2013, I had the idea that it would really be convenient to use the bus to work in the CBD.   I knew that it might not really work for me, given that I often have meetings all over the city and the province for which I would need my car. However I was committed to trying it out and seeing if I could make it work. Alas, it was not to be.
The service was delayed with objections from Golden Arrow and the taxi’s and no-one could give me a straight answer as to when the service would start. In frustration, I eventually signed up for a monthly parking and have been using my car into the office every day – which does work well for me. I have realised that given my unpredictable hours and my need to travel to meetings, taking the car in is a better option for me.

However I still wanted to try the MyCiti bus service out- firstly out of sheer curiosity and secondly, out of a desire to support the much needed service. Eventually on Thursday I got the opportunity. I had an afternoon meeting at the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) office in Grand Central and then planned to take the MyCiti bus home after that. I knew that I would need a MyConnect card to use the bus but did not think that that should be a problem obtaining one – especially as I would be in a major transport hub (Grand Central).

So, after my meeting, I pulled out my smartphone, googled where to buy a MyCiti MyConnect card and obtained a list of retailers where I could buy a card (http://www.capetown.gov.za/en/MyCiti/Pages/Participatingretailers.aspx).  I thought “great”. There was one listed in Golden Acre, so I went there. Of course, nothing is very well signposted in Golden Acre, so it took me some time to find the shop (I eventually just asked a security guard for the shop number listed on the website). When got there, they said “Sorry, we don’t do the MyCiti cards anymore” and they could not tell me where I could get one. I has a bit disappointed, but then looked at the list again and saw that there was another shop in Grand Central (where I had just been) that was listed as selling cards. I then walked across to them. However, they also did not have cards. They said that they had not received them yet. They then told me that I could get a card at the pharmacy on Darling Street (Important to note that the pharmacy was not listed on the City’s website). When I got to the pharmacy, I was initially heartened as I saw that they had MyCiti facilities. However, I soon found out that they do not sell MyCiti cards, they only can top the cards up. They stated that the only place that they knew that I could get a card in the CBD was at Civic Centre station. At this stage, I was thinking that I should have just taken my car home.  However, I was committed, so I set off for the Civic Centre Station. On the way, I would pass through the Grand Parade, Golden Acre, Cape Town Station, etc. – all major transport hubs and I really felt that I should have been able to get a card at any of these locations. Eventually got to Civic Centre Station and joined the queue. Interestingly, I noticed that the entire capacity of the fare office was two people i.e. it was not understaffed, it was built in a way that you can’t have more than two people serving – which is clearly inadequate – especially as the system expands. Anyway, an hour after starting, I eventually had my MyConnect card and could use the system.

The bus service itself was fine. The bus arrived on time. It was modern, clean and relatively comfortable (by public transport standards). It took me 20 minutes from the station to my stop and a further 10 minute walk to get home (so 30 minutes in total). It would take me about 20 minutes in my car. The cost was R5.30 one way, so a daily trip to work and back would cost me R10.60. Considering that my monthly parking works out to just over R53 per day, this translates to an 80% saving – and that is before I have taken into account the car fuel and maintenance costs. Clearly it makes sense if your circumstances are such that you can use the bus.

In summary, I think that the MyCiti initiative is excellent. Effective public transport is essential to any economy. The City of Cape Town is rolling the system out to the rest of the city and this must happen as fast as possible. I also think that they need to look at how to integrate it with the other public transport systems, especially Golden Arrow and Metrorail, to create an integrated system with a wider, more flexible reach.  However the City needs to seriously look at expanding its distribution and support channels to make it easy and convenient to get people on the system. It also needs to make sure that the information in its website is accurate and kept up to date to prevent citizens from getting frustrated and wasting their valuable time.