Getting Around in Cape Town
Getting around Cape Town is easy. The city centre is compact, large natural landmarks make for easy orientation, and the surrounding suburbs are a short distance from the central business district. Expats should be warned, however, that the city has bad morning traffic, and there are limited options when it comes to public transport.
There are no subways, and metered taxis are expensive. Trains can be unsafe and, of the two bus services operating in the city, only one of them approaches international standards and has limited coverage. Cape Town can be conquered on foot during the day but there are trouble spots and walking at night is not a good idea in many areas.
Ultimately expats will most probably need to buy a car, a purchase that comes with its own list of rules and safety procedures.
Public transport in Cape Town
An ongoing long-term project, the MyCiTi Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) system began in 2010 and is constantly being expanded. With dedicated lanes in several areas, the MyCiTi blue buses are considered a cost-effective, efficient and safe way to get around Cape Town and between the city and the airport.
The network has grown to comprehensively cover the inner city and the Atlantic Seaboard, from Sea Point to Hout Bay. It also extends northwards, cutting through Milnerton and Bloubergstrand, and going as far as Melkbosstrand, an upmarket village on the West Coast.
Unfortunately, the service fails to cover the Southern Suburbs which includes a number of areas that are popular with expats such as Bishopscourt, Constantia, Claremont and Rondebosch.
Golden Arrow buses
With a history stretching all the way back to 1861, the yellow and orange buses of the Golden Arrow Bus Service are as much a part of local scenery as Table Mountain. Unfortunately, many of its vehicles are old and could be better maintained. The buses are mostly safe but can be inefficient and crowded. However, for those living in the city's Southern Suburbs with no personal vehicle access, this may be an option worth considering.
Train travel in Cape Town is run by Metrorail, the state-owned commuter rail service. Service can be limited in some areas and can be unpleasant and unsafe, especially outside of the first class carriages. Travel during peak hours is characterised by large crowds, not enough concern for safety regulations and frequent strikes. Timing can be erratic, with trains arriving perfectly on time one day and being hopelessly delayed the next.
Muggings and petty thefts are common on some routes and expats should take care to keep an eye on their personal belongings. That said, the trains are less likely to have an accident than Golden Arrow buses.
While not always ideal for everyday travel, the train from the city centre to Simonstown and Muizenberg can be a charming way to spend a weekend afternoon.
Metered taxis abound in Cape Town, but expats should take caution to use a reliable company. Rikkis, Excite or Intercab are reputable businesses, although often delayed. Fares are usually printed on the cab's doors.
Passengers should make sure that the driver has turned on the meter, or that they have negotiated a fare beforehand. Metered taxis that look to be in poor condition or that don't have a meter should be avoided. Tipping is appreciated, but not expected.
Many expats and locals make use of Uber to get around the city, especially at night. With affordable rates and reliable pickups, Uber is a useful app to have on one's phone.
The most ubiquitous form of public transport in Cape Town is the minibus taxi which, although cheap and efficient, is not the safest transport option. Drivers are often reckless, conditions are cramped and vehicles are often in poor condition. In and around the city centre where distances are short and fares low, these can be a useful mode of transit but they are not recommended for any travel that requires nighttime or highway driving.
Routes run along main roads and pick-up and drop-off points are designated by the passenger. Tipping is unnecessary.
Driving in Cape Town
Expats will probably need to buy and use their own transport, preferably a car, although a scooter is ideal for the city centre. Both pre-owned and new vehicles are available from dealerships, and purchasing from individual private sellers is also a popular option.
Generally speaking, traffic in Cape Town is lighter than in Johannesburg, although gridlocks at key interchanges are common during peak hours. Parking can also be a problem and is often expensive, especially in the city centre. Most spots require some parallel manoeuvring.
South African drivers are known for being reckless and the lawless practices of minibus taxis don't make the roads any safer. Expats should be sure to drive defensively and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Cycling in Cape Town
Although a growing number of environmentally conscious Capetonians are turning to their bicycles to get around, expats will find that Cape Town is a far cry from some of Europe's cycle-friendly cities. Still, there are several cycling paths in the city centre and in parts of the Southern Suburbs as part of efforts to decrease congestion. Of particular note is the MyCiTi cycle route which runs from Table View to the city centre and is designed to connect with public transport routes.
The city's cycling infrastructure still has room for improvement, though – for example, not all of the cycle lanes and routes are connected. If traversing an area without one, cyclists must ensure that they are easily visible to motorists and should be aware of surrounding vehicles at all times.