Equalising the Cost of Distance


by Marius Pieterse

We welcome the soon-to-be-implemented reduction in Rea Vaya fares for commuters travelling more than 25 km.

We were pleased to note that, as from this coming weekend, Rea Vaya fares will be reduced for people travelling more than 25 kms, as well as for single trip users.  This follows the recent scrapping of smart card reloading fees at Rea Vaya stations, as well as the introduction of reduced, off-peak travel rates.

One may be cynical and ascribe this to an attempt to entice more commuters to make use of the system (which, especially in off-peak times and on recently introduced routes, are worryingly under-subscribed, for which, in our opinion, cost is not as much to blame as is the obscurity of routes to casual or would-be first time users).  But regardless of the City’s reasons for reducing the fares, this is a very positive step.

The role of public transport in actualizing the right to the city cannot be emphasized enough, especially in Joburg, where many historical and contemporary inequalities manifest in the distances that people have to travel to access economic opportunities in the city.


Moreover, the main reason why the regeneration of Downtown Joburg has been controversial has been the fact that it has, seemingly inevitably, involved the eviction and effective relocation of a substantial amount of people, away from the city center where they make their living, to more outlying areas (we resist using the term “periphery” because, in a city with as many business nodes as Joburg, it is unsure exactly where this would actually be).  This is obviously problematic from a right to the city perspective, but the negative effects of such relocation on livelihoods can be significantly counterbalanced, If not eliminated, if there is reliable, efficient and affordable transport from new places of residence to economic centers.

For this reason, Rea Vaya has been particularly exciting – its introduction has prioritized access to the inner city from outlying areas (which are outlying precisely because they were so located to minimize access to the city during the apartheid years).  As such, it plays an important role in overcoming our city’s legacy of spatial inequality.  It assists also in facilitating the regeneration of the inner city, by making it possible for people who rely on presence there for their livelihood to access it without necessarily having to live there.  This enables a larger portion of the inner city to be devoted to economic rather than residential purposes, which in turn increases the economic opportunities available in the inner city.

Indeed, in an ideal Joburg, Rea Vaya would be free, or almost free, for anyone travelling to the centre from outlying suburbs and townships.  Given the current economic realities faced by the City, though, this is unlikely to be the case.  This being so, we welcome every attempt to make travelling by Rea Vaya cheaper, especially over long distances, as this serves to equalize the travelling costs of those who have to travel further to access the city than others.  We also look forward to the extension of the network, and its central role in establishing and serving “corridors of freedom” (on which we will be writing more in the near future) with great anticipation.


This article originally appeared on Urban Joburg website on 10 February 2014

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