‘Transportation structures our lives’

* Ph.D candidate Lisa Rayle, is doing research on the MyCiTi bus system in Cape Town.

Lisa Rayle, PhD student in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, visited South Africa to focus specifically on Phase 1 of the MyCiTi bus system as part of research on improved modes of public transport in Cape Town.

She left Cape Town on Friday September 30 after a three-week visit.

Feroza Miller-Isaacs, research assistant and translator, from Wynberg, accompanied Ms Rayle to interview commuters from Cape Town, Table View and Mitchell’s Plain on how the MyCiTi bus system impacted their lives.

Ms Miller-Isaacs, said she is grateful to Ms Rayle for having introduced her to the “benefits” of MyCiTi travel. “Our research involved people from several communities in taxis and MyCiTi buses, each with its pluses and challenges. This experience highlighted how integral an efficient public transport system is and how critically necessary it is to have a variety of transport modes.”

Ms Miller-Isaacs added: “The issues of public transport will always be a passionate point of discussion for communities.”

Although Ms Rayle has not processed her data completely yet, one observation was that since Phase 1 of MyCiTi was implemented five years ago, travel time for commuters had decreased.

However, MyCiTi has not replaced other mode of transport for example the taxi industry which still plays “an integral part in the lives of the commuters,” she said.

Explaining her research focus Ms Rayle said: “The big research question is what happens when you formalise a previously informal public transport? What happens when you shift from that form of informal transport such as mini-bus taxis which are being transformed into a formal bus system. What happens when you shift from that form of transport to a formal mode of transport?”

Ms Rayle added: “A lot of cities all over the world are doing the same thing as Cape Town’s MyCiTi system. I’m interested in understanding what happened with Phase 1 and how that shift from the informal transport of taxis has impacted on the users or commuters. So the focus is on the passengers.”

She interviewed commuters and asked them what the reasons were for them switching and what made them continue taking that mode of transport.

Ms Rayle said: “The original plan was to make way to replace taxis, however, when speaking to the City, they say they have changed their plan. There is a need for taxis. How do you integrate the MyCiTi with the taxi industry?”

She said her next step will be to research the informal taxi system. “Each system has its advantages.”

Ms Rayle said taxis are more flexible and they respond quickly to demand. “If something happens, they can be there quickly. If there is a new development in the city, they can respond quicker than the MyCiTi system which has set routes.” She said some of the advantages of the MyCiTi system is that it has larger buses, it takes longer trips, creating less traffic and congestions. “While the taxi owners are competing with each other for trips, they can cause traffic accidents.” But when you take away the competitiveness, how do you balance these two? “Taxis work well in a feeder system, to bring them to the formal buses. It depends but it is a general observation. The big question is will that small trip allow for the taxis to be profitable?”

Ms Rayle visited Cape Town last year, over three months, and spoke with the taxi owners and they were “very approachable”.

“Last year there were two ways of surveillance. I asked commuters how they travelled five years ago compared to now and they said the travel time, on average, decreased. MyCiTi is positive but there are a lot of complaints as well. I think it’s too early to say it has changed the transport system.” Ms Rayle is in her fifth and final year of her research and will be processing her data in the hope of completing her thesis some time next year.