The lurch towards formalisation: Lessons from the implementation of BRT in Johannesburg, South Africa

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bus rapid transit, place - africa, mode - taxi, economics - appraisal/evaluation


Bus Rapid Transit, Informal public transport, Minibus taxis, South Africa, Life cycle analysis, Formalisation


The City of Johannesburg, South Africa, implemented the first phase of its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system named Rea Vaya between 2009 and 2011. The system design and organisational arrangements drew heavily on precedents from South America, especially insofar as BRT is used as an instrument for securing the transformation and formalisation of a fragmented and problematic informal public transport industry. Despite the inevitable transition problems, the formalisation scheme appears to be generally successful – an outcome that surprised many analysts as it follows a long history of mistrust, resistance, and unsuccessful interventions between government and the minibus taxi industry. The paper offers an analysis of the reasons for the successful transformation of participating taxi operators, by using a life-cycle analogy. We argue that the minibus-taxi industry in South Africa has reached a state of stasis and maturity, with limited opportunities for further growth in its present form. BRT, as it is implemented locally, offers opportunities for re-invention – for moving onto new a potential growth trajectory – by overcoming the binding constraints of informality and by opening up new markets to operators. The life-cycle analysis also offers some insights into critical success factors that, if not met in the long run, could jeopardise the longevity and scalability of the formalisation project. The paper concludes with insights regarding the planning and management of BRT systems to maximise their potential for leveraging the formalisation of informal operators, both in South Africa and in other developing countries.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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