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Cape Town Life: Public Transport

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Public Transport in Cape Town

Using public transport in Cape Town is not easy: For a start there is no information as to where or when busses or trains are departing or arriving.

If you have friends or friendly colleagues and they have friends or friendly colleagues then you stand a chance that one of them will let you in the know.

As a tourist though, how would you find out about this. Unless you’re visiting someone, you’d be completely lost as to learn about the network of public transport in Cape Town.

Sure, there are tourist websites and guides and any guesthouse should provide you with a map how to get there (not!), but even if you did your research and got all that information, you’re still left with one mysterium: Where to find the departure place, how to know the times and how to find out about the destination. Oh ok, that makes it actually three.

As to the departure:

In my case it was the friendly colleagues who took me there after work.

As to time:

I just had to hang around until my colleagues finished up work and followed them when they left the office. The bus was supposed to arrive at a certain time, which it never did, and that ranged from 10 to 30 minutes late.

As to the destination:

That was a tricky one, as my friendly colleagues had to get off earlier than me. So I would continue the journey without knowing where exactly the route would take me. My husband, who had to pick me up by car, as no bus station is close to a home in South Africa, would drive along the main road – we had spotted busses taking that route – until I would call him on his mobile to tell him that I must be close now according to my calculations. What an adventure!

It all worked out well, thank god. Because the people on the bus were so helpful, they were not short of giving friendly advice. Commuters on the bus form like a mini community, as you meet them every single day in the morning to work and in the afternoon from work.

And it was clear that we all had to take the same bus the next day, as in the morning it’d be the only one who could get you to work at 8am – even though it was only half an hour’s drive by car, the bus left at 6:35am for that same journey– and in the evening, as it was the only one that left. Because in South Africa, there is no time for socialising if you commute by public transport: The last bus leaves at 5:15pm. You miss it, you need to arrange alternative transport for the odd 40km home. That is of course, only when you live in the Northern Suburbs.

If you live along a train line, this is a different ball game: My friendly colleagues warned me sincerely about taking the train, as they thought it quite dangerous.

The system looks official enough to me to keep out crime – you have to enter and exit through gates, which only open if you present a valid ticket, both times – however, if you enter a wagon and see shit on the seat and it really looks like a person did that, you wonder what the hell is going on here.

Seriously: Let’s say there are people out there who – for whatever reason ever – think it’s ok to shit on the seat, then was this person alone? Or were there others who simply looked away? And why is it still there anyway? Did no train staff yet find the shit on the seat? And if not, did no one report it to them?

So yes, trains in South Africa are a bit dodgy. Depending on which one you take though, I hear. Not sure if I’m up for investigating that further.

But now of course with the World Cup coming, this is all miraculously going to improve: Now there is a Rapid Shuttle Bus in place, from the newly refurbished and shiny airport (‘It’s got the best Woolworth’s ever!’, is the feedback.) to town and to the stadium and back again.

Wow. Sounds fantastic. For the tourists. Because let’s face it: Who else is going to travel from the airport to town and to the stadium? Or let’s just concentrate on the airport – town route? Only people who can afford to travel around the globe. And that are not the people who need a better public transport system in place for commuting on an every day basis.

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