Jozi, the city made for cars, was on trial last week - could Jozijollers leave their cars behind and use public transport for a day? I was going to find out in the council’s great transport race.
Three modes of public transport, three clues and a paper bag of mid-morning snacks. That was what we were given to prove that it was possible to get around smoothly by leaving our cars at home.
We met at Park Station at 7am. I joined the director-general of transport, George Mahlalela, DJ Zinhle, and their groupies. We were to see who would get to the Soweto Theatre in Jabulani first.
There were 15 groups which included various city departments, Cosatu, the ANC Women's League, Caxton Newspapers, Crown Mines, the Gautrain, in all around 100 people.
We were to buzz around using bus, train, taxi and that universal non-motorised transport, two legs.
Our clues were the Origins Centre, the Oriental Plaza and Gold Reef City. We brainstormed. And decided to use our legs to get to Origins Centre at Wits, only about a kilometre away. The wind blew crisply through Braamfontein, and the traffic was heavy, but it was a pleasant walk. We got there at 7.45am.
Instructions were that a photograph had to be taken at each venue. So the DG was sent to stand in front of the entrance to the centre. He said: “This is a brilliant idea.” Photograph taken, we grabbed a taxi to the plaza. We got there at 7.58am.
We were doing well but needed to focus on using another form of transport. The Rea Vaya buses were out of the question as the drivers were on strike. A pity - it's an efficient service and would have served us well.
So we hailed a taxi back to Bree Street and considered our options. We could have gone back to Park Station to catch a train to the FNB Stadium, then a quick taxi to Gold Reef City. But that would have felt like going backwards. So it was decided to take a taxi to Langlaagte Station, and grab a train to the stadium.
But first, some breakfast. There's a tiny cafe at the station, with a single round barstool table in it. Someone ordered a bag of vetkoek and a pile of polony. We stood around, companionably breaking open vetkoek and stuffing it with polony, and tucking in. The DG pointed to a notice on the wall that, among other combos, read, “Pap and Race”.
Suitably stuffed, we moved to the ticket office but found that only on match days does Metrorail run a train to the stadium. So a quick compromise: we bought tickets to the New Canada Station in Soweto, and from there would hop on a taxi to Gold Reef City.
Clutching tickets, we found our way through a dark tunnel on to the platform. The service was sorely inadequate. There was no timetable, and although there an electronic board above our heads, it was dark. So we had no idea how long we would wait. But it was warm in the sun, and we weren't sitting behind our desks.
We waited 15 minutes and the train pulled in. We piled in but almost lost several in our party as the doors started closing. They made it in, but only just.
The train wasn't full. We shared the floor space with piles of mops, brooms and pillows.
Three sweet sellers moved through the compartment, carrying large bags of their colourful offerings and I shared several square liquorice toffees with DJ Zinhle. They stuck in my teeth and I felt like a child again. She said afterwards: “The train was scary.”
We tumbled out the train and went and stood at the road. A taxi stopped and we climbed in, on our way to our final stop. We got to Gold Reef City at 10am, and the photo was taken. Then the taxi whizzed us to Jabulani and the Soweto Theatre. We got there at 10.40am, far behind the first group who made it at 8.30am.
There was a party atmosphere, as people compared their experiences. They varied from “a very interesting and wonderful adventure”, to “none of the services, except the Gautrain, met our expectations”. Rehana Moosajee, transport mayoral committee member, said: “We want to build a better Joburg through all of your voices.”
Our team, the biggest of the lot, came in for some flak. We caught “floating taxis”, which was greeted with scornful laughter. Floating taxis are empty taxis that aren't going on a prescribed route. Others felt we'd ordered these taxis beforehand, but we didn't (well, maybe the first one). But because the group had to stay together, we had to grab an empty taxi.
The verdict? It may be a while before Jozijollers are rewired to leave their cars at home, particularly to catch Metrorail. But government has made a start with the Gautrain and Rea Vaya.