Transport Month: How to get around Cape Town without a car

Fun representation of Cape Town on the Tube Map dubbed ‘perlemoen’.

By Kaif Ahmed

One of the problems I’ve been facing since moving here is transport. Whilst I have a UK drivers licence I don’t currently posses an International Driving Permit. It turns out that this is one of those things that I should have sorted out back in London before I came as these things can only be applied for from the country which your original driving licence was issued. So while I go through the painful process of applying by post via my parents I have to rely on public transport.
Unlike London, Cape Town lacks a fully developed and reliable public transport infrastructure. Here are my options:

The train network in Cape Town is run by a company called Metrorail, or as the locals like to refer to it, “Metro Fail”. I was told that the train is pretty safe as long as I only travel between 8am-10am and 4pm-6pm. Outside of those times and it’s quite likely that you’ll get mugged, stabbed, or both. Also there are two types of ticket, 1st class and 3rd class. 1st being a nicer than 3rd class as they have the luxury of windows in those carriages, and even then they’re made out of plastic. The reason for this is that the glass windows are regularly stolen by people who use them to construct the windows in their shanty town shacks that make up the townships here. On my first time using the train it managed to arrive 10 minutes late which, I was told, was pretty good. Due to my odd working hours, I didn’t think trains were suitable for my commute.

Minibus Taxis are a bit of a mystery to begin with. Taxis will drive around town with a man (officially called a “sliding door operator”) sticking his head out the window screaming the destination of the Taxi to pedestrians in the hope of touting some business. These Taxis will usually try and squeeze in as many people as they can whilst they drive to their destination. The good thing is that Taxis are everywhere, whilst they won’t drop you off to your house they will take you to key locations around the city. There are two big problems with taxis though the first being that they are unreliable. Due to the fact that the Taxis aim to fill up with as many passengers as possible it is quite common for Taxi drivers to stop at a junction and not move until they have picked up some more people, which of course isn’t helpful if you are trying to get anywhere in a hurry. The second major problem is that Taxis are driven by wreckless and terrible drivers. They will happily cut you up or run through a red light in a heartbeat. My brother-in-law was unfortunate enough to have a Taxi drive into the side of his car the other day (luckily he was not injured but his car was left pretty mangled) and accidents involving Taxi drivers and pedestrians are common. The City of Cape Town is trying to rid the road of Taxis so that it can encourage people to use the newly constructed mass transit buses. But this is a bit of a catch 22 as the bus service will not improve until there is more revenue generated by increasing passenger numbers. However, passenger numbers won’t increase until people feel that the buses are good enough to dump Taxis usage. So I feel that I should do my bit for progress and find something other than taxis to use.

MyCiti Buses
These brand spanking new buses were rolled out just in time for the World Cup in 2010. This is the future of public transport in Cape Town. This mass transit bus network has dedicated, walled-off lanes that allow for the reliability of a train network with the affordability of a bus network. However it is still in a very early stage with only a tiny fraction of Cape Town being serviced by these buses. As mentioned earlier, the city is attempting to shift people away from taxi usage and onto this, but such big shifts in society take time so it will be a while before this method becomes a viable option for many.

Golden Arrow Buses
This bus network has been servicing Cape Town for 150 years, and it shows. The buses themselves are pretty old and falling apart (although there are a couple of new ones). The ride itself isn’t too bad but the big problem with them is that they are not frequent at all. Also add to that the fact that finding route information is nigh on impossible to do online. The bus stops themselves offer no information either, it’s literally just a pole with a picture of a bus on it. You have to just wait for a bus to come along to see where it’s going or you are left having to seek out people “in the know” like it’s some secret cult or something. Luckily, I managed to find one that gets me home. Although at a rate of one bus an hour, it certainly is not a convenient way to travel.

Car Pool
Another way people get around is car pooling. Of course this relies on knowing people in the area that work near you, but once you’re set up car pooling turns out to be a fairly good way to travel. Of course there’s a lot that can go wrong with a car pool but if you find the right bunch of people then it is highly recommended. The only major issue I’ve encountered is having to leave at 6.30am to avoid rush hour traffic, and meaning I get to work 1 hour earlier than I need to be there. Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers eh?
So out of those options the one I’m using at the moment is a car pool into work and a Golden Arrow bus back home. It’s working pretty well for the moment but here’s hoping I can start driving myself around sooner rather than later.


The original article appear on this website by Kaif Ahmed.  

There are 6 comments

  1. Adrian Jooste

    My wife suffers from the same problem. Our solution was to move to an area that has a lot to see and do all within walking distance. Sea Point was our answer, and when she starts working at the Waterfront, getting to and from work shouldn’t be much of a problem either.

    Loads of MyCiti bus stops are being built along the promenade which is great to see. As you say, it’s time to back the city in its plan to try and improve infrastructure in the is great city!

    1. Kaif Ahmed

      I’ve been following the monthly reports on the progress of the MyCiti IRT on the Cape Town government site here
      and it seems that it’s pretty much on track, with only a few areas of construction experiencing delays. It’s a slow process, but a good transport system takes decades to develop but, if done correctly, could last for centuries.

      1. OSlOlSO

        I’ve also been following those reports intensively. Unfortunate that they don’t upload the latests ones sooner.

        Although, I might sound pessimistic, but they have delayed a number of times. Feeders would’ve been running at the beginning of the year now. And they have since delayed again for the 1 Nov deadline.

        1. Kaif Ahmed

          True, there have been delays in some aspects of the roll out, but there are other areas of the transport network that are moving in the right direction. The formation of a Intergrated Transport Plan and a central body to organise the pubic transportation system for the whole of Cape Town. London’s public transport was terrible 20 years ago but the formation of Transport for London (TFL) really helped steer things in a much better direction (it’s not perfect there though, the biggest problem being the insanely high costs). I reckon within 5 years Cape Town will be in a much better place.

    1. Kaif Ahmed

      Unfortunately my UK licence expired just before I got here so I’ve had to try and get a new one posted to my parents in the UK to then forward onto me. I figured I’d might as well also apply for an international permit while I’m at it in case I go on holiday or something. Also, I quite like the people watching aspect of public transport 🙂

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