Gautrain bus running: Rosebank to Park Station
(work in progress)
Hot off the press is the announcement that there is now a Gautrain bus service operating between Rosebank and Park Station in the Johannesburg CBD.
The southernmost section of the Gautrain rail network between Rosebank and Park Station was not opened as scheduled in July 2011 because of higher than anticipated groundwater inflow to the tunnel. The bus service will therefore operate on this section until the remedial engineering work has been completed so that the rail link can be commissioned.
Note that the buses operating on this route are apparently white with the Gautrain logo (not gold, like the rest of the Gautrain bus fleet).
Update (April 2012): Trials are currently being conducted on the stretch between Rosebank and Park Station, and indications are that this final section of the Gautrain network will be commissioned some time in May 2012, provided that the outstanding authorisations can be secured.
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The fine art of 4 way stops
Many of the road intersections that you will encounter in South Africa are 4 way stops - this is a cheaper method of traffic control than traffic lights, and has the distinct advantage that they function regardless of whether it has been raining or not!
The etiquette at 4 way stops is quite simple: the first vehicle to reach the intersection is the first person to cross it. Stopping at 4 way stops (even if there are no other vehicles) is mandatory, and fining offenders is an easy source of municipal revenue for the traffic cops.
If traffic lights (bizarrely referred to as 'robots') are not functioning (either as a result of power cuts, cable theft or rain) then the intersection should be treated as a 4 way stop.
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Lanseria: Johannesburg's second airport
The vast majority of tourists travelling to Johannesburg will arrive and depart from OR Tambo International airport to the east of the city - however, although it is not particularly well publicised, there is also a second (albeit much smaller) airport at Lanseria, north west of town.
Lanseria was originally established as a hub for charter aircraft, and indeed this is still its core business. However, in recent years, a small number of commercial flights (notably Kulula to Cape Town) have been established from Lanseria to provide an alternative to trekking out to OR Tambo.
On paper, flying from Lanseria looks like a good option if you're staying in the northern suburbs, as it appears to be relatively close to Sandton and linked by a fairly major road. However, if you're considering this option, you should bear in mind that - despite a recent (colossally expensive and disruptive) upgrade - the R512 out to Lanseria is a very slow road which is prone to heavy traffic and delays (particularly due to malfunctioning traffic lights after rain). Also, unlike OR Tambo - which is now served by the Gautrain rapid rail transit link - there are no public transport links to Lanseria, and thus, the only alternative is to drive there (or get someone else to drive you).
Driver in Johannesburg
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Cabs for women
Some years ago I was out with a friend and he, the driver, had one or two drinks too many, so we decided to call a taxi. The first driver who arrived was surely in a worse condition for drink than my friend, so we sent him away and demanded another. The other was none too clean and in the end I chose to sleep over in my clothes rather than risk another dodgy driver.
Other women have obviously had similar unpleasant experiences and they have now started a company called "Cabs for Women". This is backed by one of the big insurance companies in South Africa, Telesure, who market it as part of their services for 1st for Women Insurance. However, it is a service available to all women passengers and all the drivers are women and the cab company is owned by women.
All drivers have professional driving permits and all vehicles are fitted with route planning devices and every cab is equipped with a meter so that pricing is transparent and consistent.
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Low cost air carriers within Southern Africa
In recent years, South Africa has welcomed a number of low cost air carriers into the local market - with a resultant (and much appreciated) drop in the cost of internal air flights.
The three major carriers are Kulula (www.kulula.com), 1Time (www.1Time.co.za) and Mango (www.flymango.com) - with Mango actually being a subsidiary of the national carrier, South African Airways. All three cover the major cities (Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban) and between them, they provide reasonable coverage of the 'second tier' destinations - see the list below for details. However, linkages between the 'second tier' destinations are few and far between, so be prepared for the fact that if you're intending to travel between these towns, you'll probably have to fly via one of the three major cities.
At the time of writing (September 2011), these operators covered the following towns and cities in South Africa:
Mango - Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Bloemfontein
1Time - Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, East London, George, Port Elizabeth
Kulula - Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, George, Nelspruit
It's worth noting that Mango and Kulula now fly from Lanseria airport (north of Johannesburg) as well as O R Tambo, although this is more likely to be of use to locals than international travellers whose point of entry will most likely be OR Tambo.
1Time and Kulula are also looking to spread their wings (if you'll excuse the pun) into neighbouring countries, which is a very welcome development for budget travellers. At the time of writing, these were as follows:
1Time - Zanzibar (Tanzania), Livingstone (Zambia), Maputo (Mozambique)
Kulula - Zanzibar (Tanzania), Livingstone (Zambia), Maputo and Vilanculos (both in Mozambique), Harare (Zimbabwe), Windhoek (Namibia), Lusaka and Ndola (both in Zambia) and Gaborone (Botswana)
As with all low cost carriers, the usual caveats apply. Their business model is all about putting 'bums on seats', so don't expect any frills or in flight service (although drinks and snacks can be purchased on board). However, they have not yet caught onto the Ryanair scam of imposing draconian baggage restrictions, so at the time of writing, all offered full baggage allowances of 20kg per person.
The best way to book with these carriers is to book online, using the website above.
Make sure that you have photo ID with you, and if you're travelling with children, you'll need some sort of identification for them too (I travel with a certified copy of their birth certificates, but passports are the best option for international visitors).
Just one final piece of advice. If you're planning to visit towns other than Johannesburg or Cape Town (the two main ports of entry to South Africa), before you rush out and book with a low cost carrier, first check to see whether you can purchase a ticket through to your final destination with your international carrier. Often carriers such as SAA and BA will provide a very competitive rate on the connecting internal flight, which may well be cheaper than a low cost carrier ticket, so check this option out first. Do be aware that if you take this option, you will still need to clear passport control and customs at your point of entry (which means that you have to collect your luggage in the international terminal and then recheck it in the domestic terminal).
Good and affordable parking for Gautrain
All the Gautrain stations have been designed with what is described as 'ample' parking (which is, I suppose, a relative term compared to the uptake).
The photo shows the parking at Rosebank (which is mostly on surface), whereas parking at Sandton is largely underground. Smart people who are familiar with the system and want to avoid negotiating extra escalators with their baggage know to head for the second level of parking at Sandton, which has a conencting door straight through to the ticket hall!
Gautrain parking rates (especially for the first two days) are very reasonable indeed - so much so that those travelling into Sandton or Rosebank by car might be tempted to masquerade as Gautrain passengers and take advantage of the station's parking. However, those clever people at Gautrain have already thought of this and taken precautions to curb such opportunism. Thus, the GoldCard (Gautrain's smartcard system) picks up whether you actually travelled on the train or not - if not, you are charged the full (much higher) parking rate.
As of 1 July 2011, the cost of parking at Sandton station is R10 per day (if Gautrain is used) and R80 per day if it is not. Check on the Gautrain website below for more details.
It's also useful to know that there is a 'kiss and ride' arrangement in the parking areas, which allows a few minutes of free parking for people dropping off or collecting passengers.
Confirmation of feeder bus routes for Gautrain
Halleluia, the full Gautrain network will open on 1 July 2011 (see tips above)! Equally interestingly for the traveller, the routes for the feeder buses linking to each of the Gautrain stations have been confirmed, several of which are potentially useful for the tourist travelling between the stations and various tourist attractions that could previously only have been reached by car or taxi.
Consult the excellent website link below for maps providing detail on the feeder bus route associated with each of the stations (including those in Midrand and Pretoria), but the following are routes that could be potentially interesting to tourists in Johannesburg.
From Park Station in central Johannesburg, there are two circular routes that provide limited coverage of the CBD. These are designed to meet the needs of commuters and are unfortunately these are of limited use to people wanting to visit the major tourist attractions in the central Johannesburg area (especially the Apartheid Museum and Gold Reef City which are a few kilometres south of the CBD) and you'd be better off using the Rea Vaya bus system when it comes into operation (the date of this service commencing is unconfirmed at the time of writing in May 2011). Attractions in Newtown and Constitution Hill/the Women's Prison are probably easier to reach on foot or by metered taxi.
From Rosebank station, the RB1 service will take you south on Jan Smuts Avenue and would be useful for those visiting the Zoo Lake park (to the west of Jan Smuts) and the Zoo itself (which is on the eastern side of Jan Smuts). The RB2 service will take you to Melrose Arch, an upmarket office and shopping complex with some commensurately upmarket restaurants - very much a 'place to be seen' (and thus, not really my cup of tea), but much beloved by more fashionable members of society than myself. And don't forget Rosebank Mall itself, which is an excellent shopping centre with a great selection of restaurants and two wonderful cinema complexes and is just over the road from the station itself.
From Sandton station, probably the most useful feeder bus for the tourists is the S5 to Fourways, which passes close to the Montecasino entertainment complex - it's hard to miss the startlingly conspicuous fake Tuscan village which houses this! The Fourways Mall itself is a couple fo kilometres further on and is a good but unremarkable suburban shopping mall, and probably isn't worth the journey, especially as the more extensive Sandton City shopping mall (and adjacent Nelson Mandela Square) offer a wider range of shops and restaurants (both Sandton City and the Fourways Mall have good cinema complexes). Sandton City is a couple of minutes walk from the Sandton station.
The fares for the feeder buses in 2011 are R6 per trip (if the train and bus are used within a hour of each other) and R20 per trip if not. Be warned that Gautrain (and its related services, including parking and feeder buses) work on a smart card system which you'll need to purchase at a station, as the buses will not accept cash. There is a one off purchase fee (currently R10) for issuing of the smart card.
Finally, note that the bus services only run on weekdays, not weekends or public holidays. On weekdays, that the buses only run during the period when the trains operate. There has been some discussion about extending the operating hours, but at present, Gautrain operates between 05:30 in the morning and 20:30 in the evening, so be sure not to rely on the feeder buses after early evening. Buses run every 12 minutes in peak periods and every 20 minutes in off peak periods.
If you are at a bus stop and want to know when the next bus is due, you can call 010 223 1098 - just be aware that you will have to provide the number of the bus route (for example, S5) and the number of the bus stop.
Road signs are for cissies!
Sadly, good and consistent road signage is not a South African strong point: the prevailing attitude seems to be, "Well, if you want to go there, then you should know where it is".
Major routes aren't too bad (particularly the main highways, prefixed with 'N' for 'national road'). However, there is an annoying tendency to signpost the next town en route (rather than the major destination at the end), which can be pretty confusing if you don't have a map to hand to check the interim towns en route.
By contrast, the road numbering is pretty consistent and reliable, so I would rather suggest that you rely on this.
Fuel shortages: July 2011
For those planning to travel to South Africa in the next couple of weeks, please be advised that there is major strike action in progress at the time of writing (15 July 2011). The strike action that has most potential to affect tourists is that being undertaken by chemical workers, which has restricted/halted production at oil refineries, and severely constrained fuel transport by both pipeline and tanker, resulting in country-wide fuel shortages.
Currently many service stations have run dry of both petrol (gas) and/or diesel, which clearly has implications for anyone planning a trip which involves self drive and/or has a road based component.
Sadly, I have little advice on how to deal with this. One would hope that tour operators have made contingency plans (although how effective these might be should the strike be prolonged is debatable). The only advice that I can offer is that if you can avoid travelling whilst the strike is on, then you should try to do so.
I will provide updates on the situation as soon as information becomes available.
Update: 26 July 2011: the strike is not yet resolved, but supply seems to have stabilised, and most service stations appear to have fuel. If you are planning a long trip, my advice would simply be to fill up your tank every couple of hundred kilometres so that you have a good buffer to fall back on just in case you find yourself in an area where supply has fallen dry.
Update: 28 July 2011: Happily the strike was resolved today, and fuel supplies are pretty well normalised already.
Delays to opening of the complete Gautrain system
This morning's newspaper (23 June 2011) ran an article indicating that the opening of the full Gautrain system might be delayed by a few days due to a holdup in the issuing of the correct documents by the rail regulator.
The full Gautrain system (including Rosebank, Park Station in the Johannesburg CBD, Midrand, Centurion, Pretoria and Hatfield) was due to enter service on 1 July 2011. It seems like nobody from Gautrain is willing to commit to a firm date, but that the delay will only be a few days: speculation was that services would commence on Monday 4 July, although this is still subject to confirmation.
In the interim, Gautrain Phase 1 (from O R Tambo airport to Sandton) will continue to run as normal.
Update (July 2011): The commissioning of the complete Gautrain system has been postponed due to delays in securing the necessary paperwork from the national rail regulator. Nobody seems able to give an exact date for this, but the Bombela consortium (who developed Gautrain) have issued media statements reassuring the public that the full service should be up and running by the end of July 2011. Watch this space ...
Update (26 July 2011): The National Rail Regulator has granted Gautrain its operating licence: however, the Bombela consortium (who constructed the network) and Gautrain (who operate it) are currently at loggerheads about how to deal with the unexpectedly high volumes of water inflow to the underground section between Park Station, Rosebank and Sandton.
These inflows are not dangerous to rail operation, but obviously will compromise the lifespan of the civil works. Essentially the debate is about whether to delay the commissioning of the entire second phase of Gautrain (or alternatively to delay the commissioning of the problematic southern extension) so that the water seepage can be addressed prior to commencing the service along these sections, or whether service should commence immediately, with repairs being undertaken during the evening when Gautrain is not operational.
Both parties have committed to holding a press conference next week to provide some clarity on this issue (and hopefully an agreed time line for commissioning), so continue to watch this space - but not your breath!
Update: (28 July 2011): Yippee!!! Gautrain have announced that the whole system (with the single exception of Park Station in the Jo'burg CBD) will be commissioned on Tuesday 2 August 2011. Services will run approximately every 12 minutes between 05:30 and 20:30. Halleluia - good things really do come to those that wait!
Ticket prices on the complete Gautrain network
The provincial authorities have recently confirmed the pricing on the complete Gautrain high speed rail network that will be open on 1 July 2011 (with the O R Tambo - Sandton link already being operational).
Ticket prices vary based on whether you're a frequent traveller (those doing 44 or 10 trips monthly get a discounted rate) or whether you're just doing ad hoc travel and are detailed on the website below.
Those of interest to the tourist are likely to be the one way tickets from O.R. Tambo International Airport to Sandton (currently R100, increasing to R105 in June 2011), Rosebank (R115) and Pretoria and Centurion (R125) respectively. There is no discount for a return trip (just double the price).
Prices are lower for journeys that do not include the airport link. For example, the longest journey possible (from Park Station in Central Johannesburg to Hatfield in northern Pretoria) will cost R49.
Children under 3 travel free (thereafter they pay full fare).
There is also a once off, non-refundable charge of R10 for the issue of the smart card on which the Gautrain system operates.
O R Tambo International airport: help is at hand!
I have known (and loathed) the international airport in Johannesburg since 1987. As a result, I have endured its dubious charms and quirks through two decades of endless building work (which seemingly never resulted in any great improvement) and the resultant chaos and confusion.
And, stone the crows, it's finally finished, and, what's even more extraordinary, it was worth the wait!!! Hell, there are even helpful ladies assigned to assist you (see photo) - is this really still the same place???
Gautrain between OR Tambo and Sandton now running!
As of 05:30 this morning (8 June 2010), the Gautrain rapid transit rail link between OR Tambo International airport and Sandton is now up and running! This is the first link of its kind in the whole of Africa, so we are feeling pretty proud!
Things seem to have gone pretty smoothly, with the only reported glitches concerning people's confusion around the ticketing arrangements. Passengers need to purchase a Gautrain Gold Card and load money onto it in order to access both the train and its associated bus and parking services. The cost of the service is R100 one way (no discount for children), and the journey takes only 15 minutes (as opposed to a minimum of 45 minutes by road).
What with all the inbound passengers for the World Cup and all the Jo'burgers just wanting to ride it for the experience, it's going to be busy but fun!
Let the games begin!
Update (July 2011): For those arriving on international flights, come into the international arrivals hall and turn right: you'll see an escalator almost immediately, which is signposted with yellow signs to the train. Take this escalator to the next level, keep walking in the same direction, and you'll see a second escalator (also signed to the train). Go up this escalator and you'll find yourself at the entrance to Gautrain. The total walk is probably no more than 300m.
If you're coming from the domestic terminal (which is at the furthermost end of the terminal complex), you'll need to walk towards the international terminal and then follow the directions above once you reach the international arrivals hall. This is a longer walk - probably about 800m, so make sure you grab a trolley if you're carrying baggage.
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