An opinion piece addressing the current state of public transportation in South Africa
By Waseem Bahemia
President Ramaphosa, while spreading some Thuma Mina vibes, got stranded
on a train between Tshwane to Pretoria on 18 March 2019. The Thuma Mina campaign is all about the ANC reconnecting with the South African community through various social activities. According to tweets from commuters, ‘Charismatic Cyril’ waited an hour for the train to arrive and spent an additional two hours stranded in the middle of nowhere. News24 reported that this particular train ride is usually 45 minutes.
A clearly exhausted President expressed his dissatisfaction: “Levels of frustration are quite high, but people surprisingly have been patient; patient because they are hoping the ANC would see what’s happening and bring about changes.”
Yet again, he missed the point. Usually these ‘one-time appearances’ by politicians goes according
to plan, but Prasa could not prevent the unexpected affects of load-shedding. Yet another state enterprise to blame.
The status quo has lost its way and it is saddening. South Africa has so much potential to rebuild again and while it seems like an impossible task in the short term, South Africa already has the infrastructure. President Ramaphosa seemed unaware of how dire the situation has gotten. Hopefully, he will take necessary action to redress the train system given that he experienced first-hand the everyday struggles of the working-class men and women.
Some of the most common means of public transportation in South Africa are: the
Metrorail, the Shosholoza Meyl, a range of bus services (when not on strike), MyCiti and our infamous minibus taxis. Working-class South Africans depend on these to get to work everyday.
Ageing infrastructure and years of mismanagement have brought the main network of transport
for South Africans to its knees. The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa is in a dire situation and other modes of public transport can be just as unpredictable.
For example, there are days when Metrorail trains do not arrive at all, with no communication
whatsoever. This is a daily occurrence for at least 2 million South Africans who depend on trains as an affordable option to get to work.
Metrorail’s actual service delivery contradicts everything their website claims they stand for: affordability, comfort, safety and innovation. Unfortunately for us, years of mismanagement and corruption have brought this once flourishing company to its knees.
Affordability does not mean much when you buy tickets without any guarantee that you will actually receive the service. Comfort and safety are a luxury because there is barely any visible security. Furthermore, the limited number of carousels per train lead to overcrowding. This means the occasional commuter sometimes ends up hanging between two carousels.
Another example is the operation of MyCiti buses in the Cape Town CBD. MyCiTi, also known as the Cape Town Integrated Rapid (IRT) system was established to help tackle the City’s transport and congestion issues. While the service has been infiltrated with alleged corruption in the last few years, I would personally say it is the safest, cleanest and most efficient means of public transport in Cape Town, if not in South Africa as a whole (drivers are even tested for illegal substances before they take out the buses in the morning). It is also electric which does not have a negative impact on the environment.
However, the disadvantage is that this service is quite costly in the long run. Especially in comparison
to the more affordable Metrorail. Metrorail’s Central line in Cape Town for example is operating at less than 25% capacity, which is 8 out of 50 trains. Who is gaining from this? Indeed, the taxi industry, which some may say are not the safest option in terms of a roadworthy vehicle or docile drivers.
On the bright side , Prasa has deployed a new security unit in Cape Town. The Rail Enforcement Unit (REU) have yielded positive results in curbing crime along train tracks and on trains in the city. A few days ago, Prasa placed three executives on special leave and another was suspended for alleged irregular expenditure. Hopefully
this was not a public stunt and actual reprisals come from it.
Prasa needs a strategic plan going forward to implement a safe and comfortable service for train commuters overall. It will take a long time, but at least new security teams (SAPS & private contractors) have been deployed to guard train stations all over the country. In 2017, Prasa received 20 new Metrorail trains which were manufactured in Brazil. The organisation is now preparing to manufacture another 580 trains locally, bringing the
total of new Metrorail trains to 600 over the next ten years, hopefully.