City seeks to take helm at Metro­rail Of­fer to help with rail service’s woes

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL MOR­RIS

THE City of Cape Town des­per­ately wants to in­ter­vene in the floun­der­ing Metro­rail service and se­cure it as the lynch­pin of the al­ready grid­locked city’s pub­lic trans­port sys­tem – and stop even more com­muters turn­ing to us­ing the roads.

But de­spite the cri­sis in the rail service, the city’s hands are largely tied un­til it can man­age Metro­rail, a mea­sure that was pro­posed in the Na­tional Rail Pol­icy Draft White Paper, and may be re­alised within a year.

Mean­while, the rail au­thor­i­ties have been luke­warm to­wards the city’s long-stand­ing of­fer to help with rail­way se­cu­rity.

The train service is central to Cape Town’s daily com­mute, but, as wide-rang­ing prob­lems af­flict Metro­rail, com­muters have been turn­ing to cars, taxis and buses to get to and from work.

The lat­est data in­di­cates there were 2.7 mil­lion fewer rail jour­neys in Cape Town per month in 2016-17 when com­pared with 2015-16.

This has led to clogged roads, hours wasted in traf­fic, busi­nesses los­ing money, workers los­ing pay or even jobs, higher fuel bills, ris­ing com­mod­ity costs, and a swelling car­bon foot­print.

Brett Her­ron, may­oral com­mit­tee mem­ber for trans­port and urban de­vel­op­ment, said the city had lob­bied “for some years al­ready” to have Metro- rail in­cor­po­rated into its ex­ist­ing trans­port network.

“How soon this will hap­pen, how­ever, de­pends on na­tional gov­ern­ment,” Her­ron said.

He told Weekend Ar­gus yes­ter­day: “A new Na­tional Rail Strat­egy pro­posed for 2018-19 may al­ter the struc­ture of rail gov­er­nance in South Africa by mov­ing the management of Metro­rail to mu­nic­i­pal level.

“This will al­low for a sin­gle in­te­grated pub­lic trans­port sys­tem to op­er­ate within Cape Town (and) would al­low the city to have more di­rect con­trol over the op­er­a­tion, safety and service stan­dards of Metro­rail, and there­fore re­store pas­sen­ger rail as the back­bone of the city’s In­te­grated Pub­lic Trans­port Network.”

Her­ron said the city had, from 2012, re­peat­edly said it was com­mit­ted to help Metro­rail with “crime and van­dal­ism on the rail sys­tem” – and the of­fer “still stands”.

How­ever “de­spite in­di­ca­tions from Metro­rail and Prasa management

that they sup­ported this “we have been un­able to get them to com­mit to mov­ing it for­ward”.

In the most re­cent dis­cus­sions last year, “the city again en­gaged with Metro­rail about the pro­posal for es­tab­lish­ing a ded­i­cated law en­force­ment presence on the rail sys­tem to im­prove pas­sen­ger safety, and the pro­tec­tion of the rail in­fra­struc­ture against theft and van­dal­ism”.

“Metro­rail/Prasa has not for­mally com­mit­ted to the pro­posed as­sis­tance/co-op­er­a­tion agree­ment,” Her­ron said.

A mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing signed with Prasa in Oc­to­ber 2012 “dealt with a num­ber of ac­tion items to im­prove the com­muter’s ex­pe­ri­ence,” Her­ron said, but “very lit­tle progress has been made on im­ple­ment­ing that MOU”.

Pub­lic trans­port cor­ri­dors – the fo­cus of the bulk of Cape Town’s R6.8 mil­lion cap­i­tal budget – are key in the city’s plan to dis­rupt the ef­fects of apartheid spa­tial plan­ning and make the city more com­pact and sus­tain­able.

The first prize, Her­ron said, was in­cor­po­rat­ing Metro­rail into the city’s ex­ist­ing pub­lic trans­port network.

“Un­til such time as new leg­is­la­tion allows for this to hap­pen, we can of­fer lim­ited sup­port – given fi­nan­cial and hu­man re­source con­straints.”

He said the city’s Trans­port and Urban De­vel­op­ment Author­ity had a “vi­sion” to es­tab­lish an in­te­grated timetable for all modes (pas­sen­ger rail, MyCiTi, Golden Arrow bus and minibus-taxi) with one tick­et­ing sys­tem along the lines of MyCiTi’s my­con­nect card, which would “bring down the cost of pub­lic trans­port in gen­eral”.

Metro­rail Western Cape’s re­gional man­ager, Richard Walker, said while “a free­way lane could ac­com­mo­date up to 2 800 vehicles a lane per hour, a sin­gle train could ac­com­mo­date up to 40 000 pas­sen­gers an hour on con­sid­er­ably less land”.

But while pas­sen­ger rail is the most ef­fi­cient and cost-ef­fec­tive mode of pub­lic trans­port, fewer peo­ple are us­ing it be­cause of dan­ger and un­re­li­a­bil­ity.

And Cape Town’s roads “do not have the ca­pac­ity to sus­tain the in­crease” in traf­fic.

Ac­cord­ing to The TomTom In­dex 2017 re­leased last month, Cape Town is South Africa’s most con­gested city and the only South African city to fea­ture in the top 50 most con­gested cities world­wide. The In­dex noted travel times had in­creased ex­po­nen­tially over the past few years, with com­muters hav­ing to add up to 35% to their travel times.

Her­ron said: “Cape Town’s re­liance on Metro­rail for pub­lic trans­port is un­par­al­leled in our coun­try, with the big­gest por­tion of pub­lic trans­port users re­ly­ing on rail to com­mute daily”.

Pas­sen­gers set two trains alight at the Cape Town Train sta­tion last week.

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