Cape Town ferry service on the cards

By Melanie Peters Time of article published Sep 18, 2004

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Cape Town is poised to get a modern, fast hovercraft ferry service to carry hundreds of commuters between the West Coast suburbs - South Africa's fastest-growing residential area - and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.

A piece of land has already been earmarked as a hovercraft terminal near the Big Bay development at Bloubergstrand and a berth at the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Waterfront will serve as the Cape Town station.

The Cape Town municipality confirmed to Weekend Argus that it was considering the proposal for a hovercraft service.

While the ferry will not solve the huge traffic congestion problems between the West Coast suburbs and the city, it will go a long way towards alleviating problems.

The two hovercraft, each with a capacity of 130 passengers, will depart every 35 minutes. This means an estimated 1 500 passengers will be ferried during peak traffic hours, taking at least 1 000 cars off the road.

With the imminent closure of the Duncan Road "rat run" through the Cape Town harbour area, traffic jams are expected to become a daily occurrence for motorists from the Milnerton-Table View area. The area has no train service and congested roads have for years not been upgraded to serve the increasing number of commuters.

While the idea of a hovercraft ferry has been bandied about several times in the past, this is the first definite proposal for such a service.

The company Hovercape intends deploying two hovercraft from the site near Big Bay to a terminal at the Nelson Mandela Gateway.

This week Weekend Argus met two of the company's directors, Alex Swanepoel and Leon van Niekerk, to discuss their plans.

Swanepoel said they had worked hard for the past four years to come up with a unique, safe and affordable fast ferry service and to help alleviate the critical commuter and traffic situation. He said most of the funding for the project was already in place.

The service would operate every 35 minutes from 6am to 9.45am and again from 3.45pm to 7pm. The company had commissioned UCT to research the amount people would be prepared to pay for such a service and a price of R45 was proposed for a return ticket.

Swanepoel said the company was involved in talks with the government to establish whether the fare could be subsidised to help make the service accessible to everyone.

He said to avoid traffic congestion and cars flooding the Big Bay area, a large car park would be built a few kilometres away near the West Coast road and commuters would be shuttled to the hovercraft terminal from there.

The hovercraft trip to the city would take 20 to 25 minutes. At the Waterfront shuttle buses would take commuters into the city proper.

Van Niekerk said a hovercraft, even though expensive, was a chosen mode of transport because it essentially rode on an air pocket and could be used in environmentally sensitive areas like Big Bay, where there was no harbour.

He said: "Once we get the go-ahead from the council the service will be up and running within 12 to 14 months.

"Both craft will be built in Cape Town, along with a terminal at a site in Big Bay."

He said between the morning and afternoon peak services, one hovercraft would continue to do ferry trips while the other would do tourist excursions.

Van Niekerk said as they would be the first two hovercraft in Africa they would have huge tourism potential. The company would use hovercraft that could handle breaking waves as high as 2.5 metres.

When winds and sea conditions grounded the craft an alternative arrangement would be made. Luxury buses would be laid on to take commuters into the city.

Frank van der Velde, of the city's public transport division, said: "It is very exciting. There is a severe transport problem and this could help alleviate problems."

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