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Pioneering bike initiative helps Joburg commuters beat traffic

Jeffrey Mulaudzi, the co-founder of the Alexandra Bicycle Tour initiative, has taken his passion for cycling further by helping Alex residents beat the traffic and save money on their daily commute to work. File picture: Independent Media Archives

Jeffrey Mulaudzi, the co-founder of the Alexandra Bicycle Tour initiative, has taken his passion for cycling further by helping Alex residents beat the traffic and save money on their daily commute to work. File picture: Independent Media Archives

Published Oct 26, 2017

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Johannesburg - Nxumalo

Ndlovu used to catch a bus from his home in Alexandra township

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to his job in Sandton, a posh city business district.

But with heavy traffic slowing down the 5-kilometre commute

he’s found a new way to work: A pioneering township bike rental

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scheme.

“I use the bike because I don’t want to waste my time

sitting in a slow-moving bus,” said the 28-year-old. That he

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gets fitter – and saves money – is just a bonus, he said.

“The good thing about cycling is that I get to places

faster. When people are stuck in traffic I ride past them,” he

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told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ndlovu, a salesman at a private firm in Sandton is one of

about 100 residents of densely populated Alexandra who now rent

bikes each day to commute to work or school, said Jeffrey

Mulaudzi, the 27-year-old bicycle evangelist who runs the

bike-sharing scheme.

“The initial idea was to help students who had to travel

long distances of up to 8km to school,” Mulaudzi told the

Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But now a range of residents are saving up to 30 percent of

their monthly travel costs by cycling to work instead of

cramming themselves in buses, he said.

Hills to the heavies

Johannesburg, with its hilly terrain, heavy traffic

congestion, sometimes aggressive drivers and reputation for

crime, is not an obvious choice for a cycle scheme.

According to South Africa’s 2014 National Household Travel

Survey, shared minibus taxis are the main means of transport for

42 percent of households in Johannesburg, with private cars,

buses and trains making up much of the rest of the city’s

transport.

But Johannesburg also has some of the world’s best weather.

And as officials put more infrastructure in place to make

cycling safer – including new pedestrian and cycle bridges over

highways– cycling at least short distances is now becoming more

attractive, Mulaudzi said.

The entrepreneur, who grew up poor in Alexandra, has since

2010 run bike tours of the township for tourists. But in 2014 he

launched his broader bike rental scheme, offering cycle rentals

for R2 per trip.

Bike sharing makes sense for the township of half a million

residents, he said, not just because the cost of a bicycle is

beyond the reach of some residents but because most people have

too little space in their homes – many of them barely more than

shacks – to safely store a bike.

Keeping bikes safe at their destination, he said, is usually

not a problem because most users have places to lock them up at

work or school.

He rents the cycles without taking any deposit, he said,

banking on the community trust and goodwill his project has

built up – and on the willingness of the township’s gangs to

confront thieves.

“Chances are very slim for the bikes to be stolen. Even if

someone steals it we can easily track it down” he said.

He hopes eventually to earn enough to insure all the

bicycles, however, he said.

Faster and fitter

Lethabile Thembu, a student in Alexandra who pedals to

school in Johannesburg’s Randburg area each day, said commuting

by bike lets her enjoy the fresh air – and gets her to class

early.

“I don’t regret cycling to school because it keeps me

fitter, every single day,” she said.

She said riding to school, rather than taking a minibus,

saves her mother about R200 each month.

Mulaudzi said not everyone manages Johannesburg’s hills on

the cycles. Plenty, he said, push the bikes up hills and then

ride back down.

David Du Preez, chairman of Johannesburg Urban Cycling

Association, said cycling is a smart way for many people in the

city to get around, particularly if their home or destination is

off major commuter lines.

“A cycling journey may be shorter than a (minibus) taxi if a

commuter’s destination is off the taxi route and the last mile

element is a long walk,” he said.

But heavy traffic, speeding drivers, construction zones and

other threats remain challenges, he said – though new

cycle-friendly infrastructure is helping.

“We want to make Johannesburg a cycle-friendly city by

promoting cycling infrastructure, so that people view cycling as

a valid way of commuting,” he said. 

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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