Bara transport hub up and runningTHE incessant honking of taxis, impatient to get on the road, was the first sound to greet guests arriving for the official launch of the Baragwanath Taxi and Bus facility.
An impressive concrete structure, it stands opposite the biggest hospital in the southern hemisphere, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Old Potchefstroom Road, Soweto. For most residents these two are the gateway into the township and some 42 000 commuters make their way through here each day.
The launch, on 2 October, also marked the official beginning of Johannesburg's Transport Month, said Rehana Moosajee, the member of the mayoral committee for transport, speaking during the opening.
Executive Mayor Amos Masondo reminded everyone that the facility was much more than a transport hub. "It symbolises in many ways the quest for urban renewal in the greater Soweto area."
he hub will eventually be part of the City's ambitious Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system, which will in turn feed into the Gautrain Rapid Rail link.
"The City has identified an effective and efficient transport system as one of the primary drivers of economic development," Masondo confirmed.
Completed in June, the final phase of the project included a new pedestrian bridge and the installation of 17 CCTV cameras.
Stakeholders have put their stamp of approval on the development. Ranging from informal traders to the various taxi associations, bus companies and commuter organisations, they agreed as one that the new Baragwanath transport hub more than met their expectations.
"I can really say to you, Mr Mayor, it is mission accomplished," said James Mothupi, speaking on behalf of the Gauteng Commuter Organisation.
Plans for its development were hatched over 10 years ago, and in 2003 the first phase of the project - realigning Old Potch Road - was completed.
It took six years and five phases to bring the whole project to fruition, with things not always running smoothly. Moosajee remembers the times when negotiations were tough, especially with taxi operators, and often done in the very early hours of the morning.
But it was these same people who gave their continued co-operation and support, eventually allowing the project to take shape, she said.
Matlakata Motloung, the marketing executive of Putco, the bus operator, remembered the Bara taxi rank of old. As a young school girl in 1981, she would catch a taxi from here to Meadowlands High School. It was a "vibey place", with no formal structure, she recalled.
People squeezed together in one small area, selling goods, playing "ma dice", but "everyone shared this space". In many ways it was a carbon copy of Joburg city, "full of warmth, excitement, laughter, loud music", a place where people had time for each other, she said.
Asked if she thought the new Bara would live up to this reputation, she believed it would. "That's the spirit of Soweto."
Not everyone is equally satisfied, however. Sitting under unsightly plastic sheeting, their wares all but clogging the pedestrian walkways, many informal traders still shun the new trading areas.
Despite the availability of 470 stalls, the majority continue to trade along pavements and on the pedestrian bridge.
The new trading areas are all under roof, with each trader having lock-up facilities and sturdy work tables and benches. But complaints from the 1 600 traders range from the rental being too steep, to the stalls being out of the way of their potential clients.
Pauline Tshabalala, however, disagrees with these concerns. She has been using the new facilities for the last three months and said she was very happy. "It is more comfortable. It is out of the rain and the sun."
Her vegetables look crisp and fresh, and at R60 a month for rental, she feels she is getting a fair deal.
Alfred Sam, the chief executive officer of the Metro Trading Company, which is in charge of the traders' market, said negotiations with the traders were under way. But, in the end, they would have to move to the new facilities or move on, he said.
Policy And Xolani Nxumalo, the deputy director of informal trading in the economic development department, spelled out the City's stance. "The City's policies are clear. Trading may only take place in designated market areas. These people are illegal traders. We will be enforcing this big time from now on."
The new trading areas included destination-related facilities that could accommodate hairdressers, muti shops and cellphone suppliers, confirmed Urban Solutions director, Gunther Wagner, the company responsible for the project's design.
They were connected to the pedestrian bridge so that traders could get the necessary exposure.
Speaking about the design, Wagner said "this [design] process was very much from the bottom up" with the people's needs in mind. "The whole facility is about integration."
Besides the holding bays and ranks for taxis and the traders' market, the Baragwanath Taxi and Bus facility has a section specifically set aside for long-distance buses and taxis.
In the end, it was about people who need to be moved, agreed Moosajee. "Commuters remain central to this development."