World Cup fans battle snow, clueless drivers to follow teams

Fans at the World Cup say transport has turned into the biggest hassle of the tournament with problems ranging from lost drivers and buses stranded in snow storms to delays and power outtages.

From northern Polokwane to southern Port Elizabeth 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) away, the mass transport of fans between the far-flung host cities has severely tested organisers in country that loves cars.

"I've had enough," said Jorge Caraccioli, a Honduran-American fan wearing a giant sombrero on a bus going from Johannesburg to Polokwane to watch Mexico play France.

"They did not plan. When you ask people, 80 percent of them, they just don't know anything," he said.

The night before, the 27-year-old engineer went to northeastern Nelspruit with his brother to see Honduras play Chile.

"The bus driver was inexperienced, he was lost. He did not know where to get his credentials, where to park... It was very stressful," he said.

South Africa is running special bus and train lines between its nine host cities, but the bus drivers were recruited at the last minute and received little training.

Trains that normally ferry commuters have also struggled to meet the demands of special services for World Cup games, especially on the popular routes around Johannesburg and Pretoria, a region that hosts three stadiums.

Erdhuan Sofhian, a 32-year-old from Singapore, took a bus to Port Elizabeth to see Portugal play Ivory Coast, only to get stranded in a snow storm.

"The driver got an alert, telling him there was snow on the road, but he did not avoid it. So we got stranded for five hours," he said.

Emergency services finally cleared the bus's path, but it arrived at the stadium at half-time, when the gates were already closed.

"Because of that experience, I cut my trip short. I am heading back to Singapore," he said.

Part of the problem is a culture clash. English is just one of South Africa's 11 official languages, and most speak it as a second, or even third or fourth tongue.

"Many people don't speak English, that's why foreigners have a problem," said Antoinette Moseamo, a local who was on the same bus to Polokwane.

"For me, it is easy. I ask around, people always help me. But I speak 10 of the 11 official languages, so I always find someone to help me."

The World Cup has also forced wealthier people who normally would never leave their cars to consider public transport to avoid spending hours in traffic to reach games, especially around Johannesburg.

Government makes daily pleas for fans to take public transport, after spending 40 billion rands (5.3 billion dollars, 4.3 billion euros) over the last four years to improve the system.

About half of that money went toward a high-speed rail link between Johannesburg's airport and the Sandton business district, which started running last week.

New bus systems have also been deployed in major cities, along with special bus services between cities on match days.

Metrorail trains normally used by lower-income commuters are now offering free rides to ticket holders for matches around Johannesburg, bringing in many first-time passengers.

Extra police have been deployed on the trains, which have a reputation for muggings and bag-snatchers, and the stations have been renovated.

Despite delays and power outtages that have affected service, good humour usually prevails, with many fans starting their party as they travel, singing and blowing vuvuzelas en route to the games.

"It's fantastic, it gives you the mood before you go to the match," said Sefora Pitso during a ride from Johannesburg to Pretoria for South Africa's last match.

"It's free and also you meet new people and play vuvuzela and practise what we are going to sing."

chp-ale/gs/har

 

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