Lessons from building paratransit operators’ capacity to be partners in Cape Town’s public transport reform process

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Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice

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University of Cape Town

In 2013 the Cape Town municipality initiated planning for the second phase of its MyCiTi bus system. The first phase, on which preparations commenced in 2007, relied on incorporating existing road-based operators in a bus rapid transit (BRT) system. The municipality under-estimated the cost and level of effort involved in the wholesale corporatisation of paratransit operators while concurrently equipping them to become BRT operators. Learning from this experience, it developed a more incremental transition approach in the second phase, the first fruit of which was a pilot express bus service launched in mid-2014. The pilot service contract also provided for a training programme for paratransit operators in the affected parts of the city to build their managerial and technical capacity. It was envisaged that programme participants would ultimately manage and run the long-term operating companies and contracts that would be established by the end of the three-year interim period. This article provides a critical review of the programme’s context, content and participant experiences after the conclusion of its first year. In broad terms the programme has made a positive contribution to paratransit participants’ understanding of the shortcomings of their current operations and why reform might be necessary, but much still remains to be done to enable them to fill their envisaged roles in future public transport operations. In view of growing interest in BRT installation in Sub-Saharan Africa lessons from Cape Town’s reform process offer both cautionary evidence and a potential mechanism for drawing existing operators in as partners in reform.