Johannesburg's Rea Vaya bus system. Reuters/Radu Sigheti

Dedicated lanes and low-sulfur diesel cut down on traffic time and greenhouse gas emissions.

Johannesburg’s bus rapid transit system Rea Vaya—one of the continent’s first public bus systems—has saved South Africa as much as $890 million so far, by reducing travel time, improving road safety, and cutting down on carbon emissions, according to a recent report by the New Climate Economy, a project affiliated with the World Resources Institute.

Efficient transport projects like Rea Vaya, which means “We are going” in South African township slang, Scamto, could save the world’s urban cities as much as $17 trillion between now and 2050 as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3.7 giga-tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year by 2030, according to the study. That is more than India’s total greenhouse gas emissions a year.

The study recommends investment in energy-saving buildings, better public transit systems, and waste management and criticizes the idea that countries must sacrifice economic growth to cut back on emissions. “There is now increasing evidence that emissions can decrease while economies continue to grow,” said Seth Schultz, a researcher for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, told the Guardian.

These savings matter especially in sub-Saharan Africa where countries are urbanizing faster than any other region in the world. By 2050, as much as two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. Of those, 800 million people in Africa will be living in cities.

The Rea Vaya bus system, built in 2009, runs on low sulfur diesel and follows predetermined routes in their own lanes, cutting down on the time spent cruising along the congested streets of Johannesburg. Here are those savings, as calculated by the World Resources Institute:

Benefit Savings (USD million)
Travel time savings 331
Improved road safety 268
Increased physical safety 141
Operating cost reduction 170
Travel time lost during construction -38
CO2 emissions reduction 18

The project is also a good example of how cities can overcome local opposition. Like many major African cities, residents in Johannesburg traveled by overloaded, poorly maintained minibus taxis run by small companies that controlled 75 percent of transportation in the city. City officials say that if 15 percent of car owners that live near Johannesburg used the bus instead of driving, emissions could be reduced by 1.6 million tons by 2020. While there is still resistance among rival mini-bus taxi operators, planners involved mini bus operators at the early stages, and many of them went on to become drivers and shareholders in the new transport system. Government subsidies have kept bus fares low, less than a dollar for a single trip. (These subsidies are not figured into how much South Africa has saved from the new bus system).

Cape Town’s MyCiti bus rapid transit system is another example of a government subsidized bus transit system. Five years after it was launched—prior to the 2010 Fifa World Cup which was held in South Africa—MyCiti has transported over 31.1 million passengers, covering 1.27 million kilometers (over 789,000 miles) each month and with nearly 48,000 passengers using the service daily. The success of both public transit projects relies on affordable fares for low-income users, and increased frequency of buses on multiple routes to decrease commute times.

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

More from Quartz:

Over 13.5 Million Children Can’t Go to School Because of Wars in The Arab World​

Witness The Pride and Elegance of West African Photo Portraits From The Past 100 Years

A South African Tycoon is Buying Up Some of Britain’s Most Precious Assets: Its Shops

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. An aerial photo of downtown Miami.
    Life

    The Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities Aren’t What You Think

    Looking at the population and job growth of large cities proper, rather than their metro areas, uncovers some surprises.

  2. a photo of a BYD-built electric bus.
    Transportation

    A Car-Centric City Makes a Bid for a Better Bus System

    Indianapolis is set to unveil a potentially transformative all-electric bus rapid transit line, along with a host of major public transportation upgrades.

  3. Transportation

    New York City’s MTA Tries a New Role: Suburban Developer

    The largest transit agency in the U.S. is building a mixed-use development next to a commuter rail station north of Manhattan.

  4. a photo of a tiny house in Oregon
    Design

    How Amazon Could Transform the Tiny House Movement

    Could the e-commerce giant help turn small-home living from a niche fad into a national housing solution?

  5. Warren Logan
    Transportation

    A City Planner Makes a Case for Rethinking Public Consultation

    Warren Logan, a Bay Area transportation planner, has new ideas about how to truly engage diverse communities in city planning. Hint: It starts with listening.

×