Taxis, buses and trains are the dominant means of transport for the majority of South Africans, with an estimated 70% of the population dependent on public transport.
According to 2017 data from Stats SA , each day about 14 million people use taxis, 21 million travel on trains and a 18 million use buses.
Taxis appear to be the most expensive mode of travel, with passengers paying an average monthly cost of R561, followed by buses (R502) and trains (R402). For some, this equates to between 50% and 70% of their monthly income. But cost is not the only worry for commuters, with many concerned about the reliability and safety of public transport. According to Arrive Alive, about 150,000 taxis are on our roads, and about three of every 36 people who die on our roads daily are killed in taxi-related incidents.
EWN photojournalist Sethembiso Zulu spent two weeks on public transport to Tembisa, Soweto, Vosloorus, Vereeniging and Sandton to document commuters’ daily travels and explore why so many wish they had other options.
Thirty-two-year old Nkuzi Madonsela (not his real name) travels every day by train from Kathlehong in Ekurhuleni to Park Station in Johannesburg. From there, he takes a taxi to Parkhurst where he works as a mechanic at a vehicle service centre. Despite the train being the most affordable means of travel, Madonsela’s daily route to work is hindered by overcrowded trains, and delays of up to an hour at times. To avoid arriving late at work, Madonsela has to wake up as early as 3:00am to catch the first train – a journey in the dark that leaves him vulnerable to robberies and other dangers. Madonsela estimates that he’s forced to spend about 40% of his salary on travelling to and from work.
While on the African National Congress election campaign trail, President Cyril Ramaphosa got first-hand experience of the massive delays experienced by commuters when a train on which he was travelling between Soshanguve and Pretoria Central was two hours late.
As part of his exploration into the frustrations and challenges faced on public transport, EWN’s Zulu bought a ticket at the Mzimhlope train station in Dube, Soweto, for travel to Johannesburg at around 9:45am on 4 June 2019.
“In my mind, I thought a ticket examiner would come and punch my ticket to validate it. I rode the train from Mzimhlophe station to New Canada, Longdale and Croesus stations. To my surprise, there were no ticket examiners in sight for the whole trip. This could be one of the reasons why there are more people on trains that should be allowed.”
Overcrowding on trains is a significant issue, especially during the peak hours of 5:00am to 7:00am, after which the number of commuters dips and then picks up again from around 3:30pm to 6:00pm.
Thulisile Ngcobo (65) from Vosloorus travels by bus to Sandton where she works at Investec. Ngcobo has used buses as her main mode of transport ever since she began working. Ngcobo previously used the Putco bus service, but nowadays uses buses provided by the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality. During her three-hour, one-way trip, Ngcobo tries to rest and sleep. But in most cases, this is not feasible as the bus between Vosloorus to Sandton is filled beyond capacity, and she often finds herself without a seat. These buses are meant to have 66 passengers seated, and 22 standing. That is certainly not the case for this bus.
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