Let the Games Begin

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As the host of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa will take centre stage next summer, but the country's Department of Transport (DoT) is working overtime to complete the needed infrastructure improvements in time to accommodate the expected surge in visitors.

In a bid to revamp the country's multimodal transport network, the South African government has earmarked over R170bn ($16.96bn) in federal spending for World Cup-related transport projects.

Approximately $7bn has been directed toward improving road infrastructure, while the other main beneficiaries include the Gautrain - the new rapid rail link in the country's Gauteng Province ($2.49bn), airport development ($1.95bn) and passenger rail ($1.79bn).

Given that South Africa is three times the size of the last World Cup host country, ensuring adequate transit links between host cities is crucial. The country, which is expecting at least 450,000 visitors during the month-long tournament, has designated nine host cities for the competition, stretching from Cape Town in the southwest to Polokwane in the northeast.

Focusing specifically on land transport, the DoT has highlighted four key areas for improvement, including inter- and intra-city bus travel, commuter and passenger rail, shared taxis and meter taxi operations. Examples of specific goals include purchasing at least 1400 new luxury coaches, as well as a $750m programme to revamp the country's taxis.

Among the new projects is the high-profile $2.49bn Gautrain initiative, the country's new 80km rapid rail link in the Gauteng Province linking Johannesburg and Pretoria. The public-private-partnership (PPP) between the Gauteng Provincial Government and the Bombela International Consortium - an alliance between Bombadier Transportation, Bouygues Travaux Publiques, Murray and Roberts and Loliwe Rail, alongside RATP Developpement - is the largest such project to date in Africa. According to the Gautrain website, the rail link will boast a starting ridership of over 100,000 passengers per day, with annual growth of 4.8%.

In a bid to ensure that the transport improvements match local demand, the DoT has spread out transport planning and spending across each level of government. While the implementation of the plan is centrally coordinated, each host city will work on their own intra-city transport and logistical objectives, with local authorities working with the federal government and FIFA to ensure reliable inter-city links. Cape Town, for example, must revamp the city's transport and network plan to include the new 70,000 capacity Green Point Stadium, which is currently under construction. Johannesburg has completed the first stages of its Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system, including 48 bus terminals, while authorities in Durban are in the process of instituting a solar-powered traffic light system, capable of operating without electricity.

Although network upgrades are the DoT's key focus for the World Cup, money is also being poured into auxiliary systems. Radebe told a news conference in November that an integrated ticketing system for visitors would be introduced in time for the games, while the number of railway police would increase from 1400 to 5000, in addition to other security measures being instituted. The DoT is also establishing a new series of recruitment and training policies for drivers across all modes of transit.

In spite of the emphasis the government is putting on the transport upgrades, there are already worries as to whether or not South Africa will be ready in time for the first kick-off. Road construction has been plagued by delays, while, more importantly, construction on the heralded Gautrain project lags behind schedule.

Though more than a third of the Gautrain project has been completed, it has suffered a variety of setbacks, including rising costs estimates, and environmental issues. Part of the problem comes from a compressed timeline, as the Gautrain was initially slated for a 2012 completion date prior to the World Cup announcement. The route also skirts some of the oldest residential areas in the province, causing zoning problems for potential future developments. Finally, there have been accusations that projected ridership figures from the government were inflated in order to gain political support. Naysayers point out that there is still a long way to go before the Gautrain is up and ready - not to mention the road and traffic closures caused already by the train's construction.

However, in spite of the continuing hurdles, officials expect the Gautrain to at least be partially operational by the opening kick-off. Speaking to the local media, Jack van der Merwe, CEO of the Gautrain, said that at the very least the Johannesburg airport link will be operational for 2010, connecting OR Tambo International Airport to Sandton, the commercial and business hub of the city.

Certainly, given the amount of media scrutiny the country will be subject to during the World Cup, South Africa is under a great deal of pressure to complete the multi-billion projects before June 11 – less than 500 days away. As transport and infrastructure will play an invaluable role in ensuring the success of the games, it is paramount that things run smoothly. While an earlier completion date would be agreeable, the government is trying to delicately balance the urgency with the competing need for sustainability. Given the amount of capital that is being funnelled towards these projects, the DoT cannot afford to rush the investments only to have them beset by problems either during or after the games.

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