Cape Town's first easy access bus - the Optare Solo SR - has been welcomed by residents living on the MyCiTi route from Civic Centre to Walmer Estate and Salt River which started operation this month. Joining residents and students at the Cape Peninsula University in using the buses are previously excluded groups such as the blind and mobility impaired.
The route provides residents with connections to the Cape Town and Salt River railheads as well as the City and other MyCiTi routes from Civic Centre station. It created an operating challenge as the historic District Six, Walmer Estate and Woodstock suburbs are situated on the slopes of Table Mountain. They are characterised by twisting, narrow, congested streets with steep inclines and sharp corners. A conventional bus chassis could not cope with these demands.
The UK-manufactured but South African assembled Optare Solo SR provides the necessary manoeuvrability because of its minimal front overhang, low floor and nine metre length. Despite its compact size the vehicle accommodates 50 passengers, 25 seated. It is powered by a rear-mounted Cummins diesel engine which meets Euro 5 emissions targets and is highly compatible with the Allison automatic transmission fitted for its suitability for stop-start operations and smooth gear changes.
The low-floor Optare vehicles have boarding ramps and no steps so boarding and alighting is at pavement level. This plus same-level docking at MyCiTi stations offers ease of access and seamless transfer for all, including the elderly, wheelchair users and mothers with prams.
Jeremy Opperman, who is blind, spoke on behalf of many with disabilities: "The tactile paving helps us find our way and audio signals alert us when the bus doors open. The new service lets me get to town, the waterfront and the airport independently.”
"To guarantee success, we worked closely with the operating companies and released 20 vehicles early for driver training," said Malcolm Wilken, General Manager, Western Cape of Busmark 2000. The company is assembling over 200 Optare Solo vehicles at its Elsies River factory, creating 150 new jobs in the process. The order from Cape Town, together with the partnership with Busmark 2000, is British bus maker Optare’s largest ever export order. Significant potential for future such orders exists both in Cape Town and in other South African cities which are studying the new buses closely.
“It is clear that there is a real need and appetite for a good, reliable public transport service in these areas, and that MyCiTi has all that it takes to fulfil this need.” said Cape Town Councillor Brett Herron, Mayoral Committee Member for Transport, Roads and Stormwater.