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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil and CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Almost 90% of the buses that will be used by soccer teams and FIFA delegates during the World Cup in South Africa in June and July have Brazilian DNA.
Since last year and up to April 30, bus maker Marcopolo, headquartered in Caxias do Sul in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, will deliver 800 buses to South Africa. Another 118 buses made by Caio Induscar based in Botucatu, São Paulo, also will roam South African streets.
The confidence in the quality of the buses produced in Brazil explains their supremacy among other mass transit buses that are in use in the African country. The Brazilian makers are acting as partners in the modernization of the country’s public transit system.
“Brazilian competence in this sector is recognized worldwide,” says Paulo Andrade, the international business director of Marcopolo. “We have a long tradition in developing and producing buses.”
The relationship between Marcopolo and South Africa has been growing since the 1990s. In 2000, the bus maker inaugurated its first bus factory in the country, in the city of Polokwane. Soon after, the facility was moved to the capital, Johannesburg.
The factory, which covers 35,000 square meters (41,859 square yards), has the capacity to produce eight buses daily, about 1,300 buses per year. It employs 600 workers, who build buses for short and long trips.
Part of the bus is produced in the Johannesburg factory and the rest in Brazil, where the design and engineering departments are located.
Marcopolo’s production plan for 2010 in South Africa is to provide 1,000 buses, which also will serve Zambia, Tanzania and Botswana.
In 2009, the South African branch received a US$7 million investment to satisfy the demands for transportation when thousands of visitors arrive in South Africa for World Cup 2010.
“The infrastructure that the World Cup demands is becoming a great opportunity for South Africa to effect meaningful improvements in its roads,” Andrade says.
Caio Induscar also has participated in the projects.
“Since 2006, we have already sent 1,200 buses to South Africa,” says Tania Pires de Souza, Caio Induscar’s communications and marketing manager. “We export the unmounted frames that are mounted locally by Caio Buses Africa, an entity resulting from a joint venture created to reach the South African market.”
Today, the most common means of mass transit in South African cities is still the van, as an estimated 160,000 transport 45 million passengers daily.
Along with the collaboration of Brazilian bus makers, the country’s implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system – which includes lanes exclusively for buses, new bus stops and new buses – has contributed to the overall improvement of the mass transit system in numerous cities.
In Johannesburg, the first phase of the BRT, overseen by the corporation Rea Vaya, began in September. The buses’ frequent stops and availability are their main attractions for passengers. The buses make stops every five minutes from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and fares are $5 rands (US$0.60).
The principal route connects downtown Johannesburg with Soweto, an outpost with a population of more than a million and a substandard transit system.
Lebohang Moloi, a 30-year-old college student from Johannesburg, says a recent strike by the van drivers caused him to switch to relying on the new buses.
“Thanks to this strike, I did not miss out on the opportunity to try out transportation that is fast, secure and reliable,” Moloi says.
Makgosto Dladla, a 25-year-old resident of Orlando, Soweto, said the vans “are not at all pleasant, the drivers are rude and treat people badly.”
“There is no way I will use them again,” Dladla says.
In Cape Town, the new buses still are not in use, but the city is constructing highway lanes that will be used only by buses. The BRT will continue to downtown Atlantis, 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) from Cape Town along the Atlantic coast.
The new system is greatly anticipated by the residents of Atlantis, a city with an unemployment rate of about 70%.
A roundtrip van ticket costs $40 rands (US$5.40), which “is excessive for all the workers that have to go to Cape Town every day,” says Lima Dudley, 60.
Even the van drivers in Atlantis support the initiative, as some want to negotiate with local government so they will be hired to drive the buses. The BRT, which is considering hiring van drivers as bus drivers, guards and inspectors, also plans to offer contracts to van drivers to shuttle passengers to bus stops.
“During peak hours and with the traffic entering the city, making it to downtown can take an hour and a half,” says Jay Frederick, a 70-year-old van driver. “Let’s hope that the BRT frees up the traffic.”