Energy Diet

We have a public transport challenge in South Africa. The bus routes mainly service the few main arteries in the city, and the rest is serviced by an informal system of minibus taxis that strikes fear into the hearts of the regular car-driving public (mostly the fear is replaced by unadulterated anger and hate).

Taxi drivers are notoriously brazen, flouting the laws of the road by skipping red traffic lights (O.K., I’ll humour you: ‘robots’), pushing in, overtaking on the left side of the road (which here by us is the ‘right’ side to drive, but the ‘wrong’ side to overtake from) and by abruptly stopping anywhere on route to either pick up or drop off passengers.

Yup. South Africans, and specifically Joburgers love to hate taxi drivers. Most people I know (working, middle class) own a car, and most households I know own two, with both in regular use. Most people I know sit in at least an hour of traffic every day, unless you are lucky enough to live in one of those nice old suburbs in Johannesburg that is similar to a village, with its butchers, florists and bakeries within walking distance. And your work is in that same suburb.  We are that lucky.

I’ve had a great track record in terms of transport and commuting the last four years in Joburg, as I  walked to work every day. Unfortunately, since moving to our house, and since being on maternity leave, I just have that bee in my bonnet to go places. Far places. In a car. At least a 20-minute drive. Because that is just about the amount of time it takes for little Hannah to fall asleep in her rear-facing car seat. And if I keep on driving and going places, she can sleep for at least two and a half hours! (This is a bad habit, and not just because of the fuel usage… I am basically using my car as a sleep-crutch for my baby. Gina Ford would have me shot.)

So. I have resolved lately to replace my daily drives in the car with a daily walk/run with Hannah in the pram. (Sometimes my resolve buckles when it is really cold). We live in a truly great area, it’s pretty, it’s leafy, it’s three minutes from my workplace, and there are plenty of bakeries, convenience shops, and fancy schmancy décor shops that I can work in on my route. I’ve even walked to the mall, which is quite a way (uphill!) from us. It takes me about half an hour (and that is with a couple of short runs thrown in). I’ve done that twice.  And it was definitely a trip I would have taken by car before. The bonus is, of course, that I am getting fitter, and that Hannah still falls asleep once the wheels start turning.

I have a deep and abiding love for trains. Last year, for the first time in my sheltered life, we took the commuter trains to the Soccer World Cup matches at the then Soccer City. It was awesome. I’ve heard of many people who never took the train to work before and are taking the train regularly since then. It is not anywhere near on my route, and I must confess without the vibe of the World Cup I’d still be a bit skittish, safety-wise.

Another thing to look forward to on the public transport front is the Gautrain, a high speed train that connects Johannesburg and Pretoria (thousands of people do the daily commute from Pretoria to here, and traffic is notoriously horrendous). It also connects to the airport, and the station nearest to us is due to open in a couple of months. We truly can’t wait to use it. When finished, it will only be a 7-minute commute into town, which is where Mark works. Now it takes him about 20 minutes to drive. We were lucky enough to go on the ‘maiden voyage’ of the first train when the first leg between Sandton and the airport opened last year. We felt so spiffy and first world. It was very special.

I think if you want to reduce your fuel usage in South Africa, and specifically in a big metropolis like Johannesburg, it helps to move as close as possible to your work. Or choose your work to be close to your home. Or to work from home! It is probably not as easy to do as it sounds, but we got lucky that way and never looked back.

I still have that bee in my bonnet to load Hannah in the car and go explore the city, but going out for a walk scratches that itch for the most part.

Now, if the weather will just play along, please. I am starting to suffer from cabin fever!


  1. Christina Nunez
    June 27, 2011, 12:13 pm

    Great photos! Interesting that one event could lead to lasting behavior changes.