Practical Life in Johannesburg

Transport in Johannesburg

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The Department of Transport for the Republic of South Africa is responsible (on the national level) for all means of transport across South Africa.

Johannesburg, much like Los Angeles, is a young and sprawling city geared to the freeway-borne private motorist, and public transport, geared mainly to the city's workers, may not be appropriate for foreign tourists.

Useful addresses


The metro railway system connects central Johannesburg to Soweto, Pretoria and most of the satellite towns along the Witwatersrand. The railways transport huge numbers of workers every day. However, the railway infrastructure was built in Johannesburg's infancy and covers only the older areas in the city's south. In the past half century Johannesburg has grown largely northwards, and none of the northern areas, including the key business districts of Sandton, Midrand, Randburg and Rosebank, have any rail infrastructure.The only lines run south of the centre, from the East Rand through to Soweto and Randfontein in the far west.

The railways are operated by a Parastatal, Wits Metrorail, which runs all services in Gauteng province, including lines from Vereeniging in the south, Nigel in the east, Randfontein and Oberholzer in the west and Olifantsfontein in the north. Trains, then, are a useful form of transport to local regions outside Johannesburg, to the south, east and west. The city's main station is Park Station, just north of the central business district, a destination for both local and mainline trains and the largest railway station in Africa. To the east of Park Station are Doornfontein, Ellis Park and Jeppe stations. To the west are Braamfontein, Mayfair, Grosvenor and Langlaagte stations, while the south has Faraday, Westgate, Booysens, Crown and Village Main stations.

All stations have access control points. You can buy your ticket from the ticket sales office at the station. CCTV cameras have been installed at larger stations to monitor activities on the platforms. There are visible security guards on trains and at stations throughout the network, making the trains much safer than they used to be.. Don't expect to find maps indicating train routes and points of exchange at the station. Since the rail line is limited to one route, there is little train exchange to do. Train routes and destinations are marked by the numbers on trains and passengers are expected to memorise these numbers.

Passengers have a choice between two classes of travel: the common Metro class or the more luxurious Metroplus, which has upholstered and more comfortable seats. The latter is generally less congested than the former, but this luxury comes at a price. For example, a Metroplus monthly ticket on the Johannesburg - Naledi route costs R180, while the same ticket on the Metro class costs just R79 - making train travel the cheapest mode of transport in the city. Single journeys from Johannesburg to Naledi are R7.50 for Metroplus and R4 for Metro.

Outside most stations, there are ranks with taxis to take commuters through the next leg of their journey.

Metro: For information on train routes and timetable, click here


Metrobus is the informal name of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Bus Service. MetroBus cover 108 routes in the Greater Johannesburg area. The main bus terminal is at Gandhi Square, two blocks west of the Carlton Centre, and fares work on a zone system ranging from zone one to zone eight. The hop-on, hop-off, open-topped City Slicker buses offer one of the best ways to see Johannesburg. The double-deckers pick up from five of Sandton's best hotels, heading to Rosebank and the zoo before winding through the mansions of Parktown, Melville's 7th St and the Oriental Plaza on its way to the city centre. City stops include the Newtown cultural precinct and the Carlton Centre. The three-hour route ends in Soweto, via Gold Reef City. The return trip takes the same route. Various bus companies provide transport in and out of Johannesburg, including one that specialises in backpacker travel as well as the conventional private and government-owned lines.

For the purposes of Metrobus's operations, the city has been divided into concentric zones, radiating out from the Central Business District (CBD). There are currently six zones, with most of the routes starting from the inner city points in Zone 1. The number of zones a commuter crosses determines the fare.

The ticketing system for the bus services has largely been replaced with a tag system. Travellers buy tags from the bus terminal and the cost of the journey is automatically deducted from the tag each time you travel. The number of zones a commuter crosses determines the fare , with ticket prices varying from zone to zone. It is cheaper to use prepaid tags rather than pay cash. A once-off fee for the tag is payable and the top-up amount is then recorded on the tag and deducted as bus trips are made. Different tags are available depending on the commuter's particular needs, with special rates for pensioners, learners and disabled people. Commuters forfeit all unused trips after the expiry date and will forfeit unused trips when changing between the denominations. Normal, adult tags are green in colour and come in denominations of 52 trips monthly, 44 trips monthly, 14 trips weekly, 12 trips weekly and 10 trips weekly. The monthly tags must be used within 35 days, while the other tags have an expiry date of 10 days. 

The different coloured Metrobus tags are similar to prepaid phone cards and can be bought at Computicket outlets.

Commuters who use the tag system and who need to transfer from one bus route to another must do so within two hours of the tag being scanned. To activate the tag, the number of zones to be travelled need to be loaded on to the tag.

Regular services in and out of Johannesburg are 'name trains'. They are a good and safe, albeit slow, way to get around, and they're relatively affordable. The Algoa links Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth daily, the Amatola runs to East London Sunday to Monday, the Bosvelder runs to Musina daily, the Diamond Express runs to Bloemfontein three times weekly, the Komati runs to and from Komatipoort daily and the Trans Natal links Johannesburg to Durban five times a week. 

A number of international bus services leave Johannesburg for Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The main long-distance bus lines (national and international) depart from and arrive at the Park Station transit centre, in the northwest corner of the site, where you will also find their respective booking offices.

Crime is a very serious problem on the Metro system, mostly on those lines connecting with Black townships. The Johannesburg-Pretoria Metro line in particular should also be avoided.

Useful Addresses


The South African Rail Commuter Corporation (SARCC) is South Africa's biggest and preferred provider of passenger and commuter rail services. SARCC is a State Owned Enterprise (SOE). SARCC operates commuter rail services through Metrorail, transporting over 1,7 million passengers on weekdays in major metropolitan areas made out of five Regions:

  • Wits (Johannesburg)
  • Cape Town
  • Tshwane
  • Durban
  • Eastern Cape

The five Regions combined occupy about 478 stations with a fleet of over 270 train sets making up to 3100 coaches with each coach carrying more than 100 people. The Metrorail theme is "Getting South Africa to work."  Metrorail covers 2 400 Kilometres of track throughout South Africa.

General Information Contact Number: 086 000 8888.

All fares are quoted in ZAR (South African Rand). Fares displayed are single fares for one person sharing the compartment. Return fare is double the single fare.

Useful Addresses

Train: South African Rail Commuter Corporation Limited (SARCC):


Johannesburg International Airport (JNB) is located 15 miles (24 kms) north-east of the city of Johannesburg, South Africa's principal city of commerce. JNB Airport is a major transport hub and tourism gateway for the province of Gauteng as well as southern Africa. Johannesburg International Airport serves over 50 airlines, carrying over 11 million passengers annually. The airport has six closely connected terminals serving domestic and international air traffic, with ample short- and long-term parking facilities.

Tourists arriving at Johannesburg's international airport, which is a half-hour drive from most major parts of the city, will be relieved to learn that the big hotels operate their own shuttle bus services to and from the airport, and it is wise to make use of them. Other minibus services to various key parts of the city are also available and can be booked at kiosks close to the airport entrance. These are probably the cheapest option for those not able to use hotel shuttle services. Make sure you book one of the commercial services with kiosks inside the airport rather an informal minibusi, as their quality of service cannot be guaranteed.

Cars are readily available for hire at the airport, and this is the option preferred by experienced visitors to the city, for whom a car is the only flexible form of transport.

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Metered taxis, recognisable by the yellow "taxi" lights on the car roofs, are also available at the airport. These are considerably more expensive than the bus services, but do at least ensure that visitors are dropped directly at the front doors of their destinations. Although locals tend to avoid metered taxis, foreigners may find this the quickest form of transport and the tariffs relatively affordable. Charges are around R8 ($1.15/60p) per km. Unlike big-city taxi service in many other countries, metered taxis in Johannesburg do not cruise the streets in search of passengers, and must generally be summonsed by telephone.

If you choose not to hire a car, legitimate taxis are expensive but necessary in Johannesburg. It's wise to ask a local the likely price and agree on a fare at the beginning of your trip. There's a complex system of hand/finger signals to tell a passing taxi where you want to go (drivers will stop if they are going the same way). Just raising your index finger in the air will stop most taxis - but it means 'town'.

To board a taxi in the city of Johannesburg, you must first travel to the appropriate taxi rank. Minibus taxis also converge at taxi ranks to ferry commuters to their various destinations in and out of Gauteng province, and even across the border to neighbouring countries. The Noord Street taxi rank is by far the largest and busiest rank in the middle of the city. Be advised to carry loose coins lest you incur the wrath of a taxi driver who does not have enough change. Once inside the taxi, commuters make their payment seat by seat. Major taxi companies include Roses Taxi (tel. 011/403-9625) and Maxi Taxi (tel. 011/648-1212). In Tshwane, taxi companies include Rixi Mini Cabs at tel. 012/325-8072 or SA Taxi at tel. 012/320-2075.Below is a list of taxi ranks in the Johannesburg city centre.

Like many African cities, Johannesburg has an informal public transport system in the form of minibus "taxis". These are not taxis in the typical Western sense of the term - they won't give you a lift to your doorstep; rather they are small-scale bus services, often unmarked, operating with neither timetables nor formal stops. These minibus taxis by far the cheapest and most popular form of public transport in South Africa, used mainly by the urban and rural poor. They serve as the daily transport lifeline of the bulk of the working population.  This reasonable cost however, comes at a price. Convenience is sacrificed as you are crammed into a 12-seater minibus with 13 other passengers.

That said, more adventurous travellers will find minibus taxis an interesting African experience, and the closest one may get to mixing with ordinary people. They are also the only form of public transport that penetrates every last sector of the city, including the poorest shack settlements. MiniBus Taxi service is one example of the informal taxis which service Johannesburg.


South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road. The speed limit in built up areas is usually 60 km/hr, although this is sometimes raised to 80 km/hr depending on the number of lanes and proximity of buildings. Check the road signs. The usual speed limit on highways is 120 km/hr. Most road surfaces are in good condition and should present no problems. Be warned, however, that the spaghetti-like freeway interchanges between the airport and the city are not easily negotiated by novices, who are liable to get lost quickly. Traffic in Johannesburg can become congested during the morning and afternoon rush hours from 6.30am to 8.30am and 4pm to 6pm. The highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria is the busiest in the southern hemisphere, carrying 300 000 passengers each week day between the country's commercial heart and its administrative capital. Not surprisingly, it takes no more than one accident, or one bad rain storm, and traffic can be snarled up for two hours in either direction.

If you're comfortable with self-driving, you can rent a car from one of the myriad desks in the airport or in and around the city. ResQ (tel. 011/867-6552; ) will deliver and collect the car at the airport, and offers secondhand budget options that have the added advantage of being less desirable to carjackers. Britz Africa (tel. 011/396-1860; ) specializes in fully equipped four-wheel-drives and camper vans, and will pick you up at the airport. Hire a Land Rover (contact Neil Kemp, tel. 011/608-3442 or 082/929-9237; ) rents out a wide range of "Landies" that are in good condition. works with all the major car rental agencies in South Africa

Useful Addresses

City Map:
Road Map:

Update 27/11/2008


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