The 2015 EcoMobility World Festival has got off to a great start, with commuters coming to the party (with far fewer cars!), and positive feedback from delegates, the public and the media.

More will follow … More will follow … four pop-up (temporary) cycle lanes have been set up between Sandton and surrounding areas. (Photo: @RidethePlanet1)Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile, had a different feel on Monday morning, the first day of the 2015 EcoMobility World Festival.

It was buzzing to be sure, but with far fewer cars congesting the roads as thousands of motorists heeded the call by Johannesburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau and his team to leave their vehicles at home and either walk or cycle or use public transport to get to work.

After months of intense planning, the EcoMobility World Festival got off to a great start. Mayor Tau led by example when he boarded a Metrobus at Gandhi Square in the Johannesburg CBD at 7.30am to travel to Sandton.

More than 300 motorists used the City’s park ‘n ride facilities dotted across Johannesburg. These excluded the increased number of people using Gautrain to reach Sandton. A total of 2 000 people were recorded walking along Maude Street, which is usually congested with cars, before noon.

Lisa Seftel, the City’s Executive Director of Transport, said the first day of the festival “exceeded our expectations”.

Suwon Mayor Yeom Tae-Young and Joburg Mayor Parks TauCity of Suwon Mayor Yeom Tae-Young and City of Joburg Mayor Parks Tau at the official opening of the festival on Sunday, 4 October”This morning went very well. Everything is up and running,” she said, adding that the park ‘n ride facilities were in full operation as were walkways and cycle lanes. “There were a few complaints about public transport and signage, but we can improve on that.”

Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Transport Councillor Christine Walters – who chaired the Clean Bus Fleet workshop at the Industrial Development Corporation in Sandton – was equally impressed. She said since Sunday the City had received positive feedback from members of the public, the media and delegates.

“Sunday was amazing. The support we got from both national and provincial government was impressive. The Mayor of Suwon, the Korean city that hosted the inaugural festival in 2013, brought a delegation of ordinary people to support Johannesburg.

“This shows everyone is committed to a sustainable public transport across the continent and beyond. Today’s dialogue session showed that cities, which are at different levels of implementing the bus rapid transit (BRT) system, for instance, are fully committed to this. As Johannesburg, we are on the right track.”

Mayor Tau takes the Metrobus from Ghandi Square to SandtonMonday morning, 1 October: Mayor Tau takes a Metrobus from Ghandi Square to Sandton, where he has temporarily moved his offices for the duration of the EcoMobility World Festival. (Photo: @CityofJoburgZA)The MMC said Mayor Tau was pushing to introduce the next phase of the BRT system by 2018, once the Fleet Greening Programme – through which buses will be converted into eco-friendly vehicles – has been launched. Elephant grass will be grown on a large scale to produce biogas for the buses and to create jobs at the same time.

“We plan to go completely green [with the buses]. We’re already replacing old buses with green ones. Green taxis are next on the agenda, we just need a champion for that … but it’s possible, it can be done,” she said.

Representatives of partner organisations such as the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), United Nations’ Environmental Programme (UNEP) and Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), and experts from Lagos in Nigeria, Abidjan in Ivory Coast, Accra in Ghana and Nairobi in Kenya spent the first day of the festival discussing public transport and its impact on the environment and people’s health.

Africa, which had its first BRT system launched in Lagos in 2008, has experienced rapid growth since. South Africa is now leading the way, with the system up and running in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Rustenburg, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Cape Town.

Delegates at the first of the five-day EcoMobility Dialogues agreed that there was a need to mitigate against the impact of fuel emissions, which had serious consequences on the environment and people’s health.

Ray Minjares, Clean Air Programme Leader at ICCT, urged planners to switch from diesel bus fleets to soot-free fleets to mitigate against pollution, which kills 3.7-million people – 176 000 of them in Africa – every year. He said research showed that there was a direct link between diesel fumes pollution and cancer and heart diseases.

UNEP’s Carly Koinange emphasised that clean fuels and clean gas technology were vital in the fight to save the environment. Delegates agreed that African cities needed to commit themselves to switching to green fuels and clean gas technology and reducing the carbon footprint by 50% by 2030.