Cape Argus

If Metrorail crashes, so will the city

Public transport is essential to progress, and its improvemen­t cannot be delayed any longer, writes Robin Carlisle


LET NOBODY deceive themselves, Metrorail in the Western Cape is in near terminal decline. We have this on no less an authority than the National Minister of Transport. Speaking in the National Council of Provinces in February, he said that unless there was urgent and significan­t investment in Metrorail, then the commuter rail systems would collapse in every major city in South Africa in the next 10 years.

There has been no such investment, and to the best of my knowledge, none is planned, despite the government’s promises of massive infrastruc­tural investment.

If Cape Metrorail collapses, it will take the whole public transport system down with it, and all our very real hopes and plans for creating one of the world’s greatest cities will turn to dust. Greater Cape Town will become an urban sprawl, its transport arteries clogged and congested; its atmosphere even more polluted; its economy stagnating and its apartheid configurat­ion forever institutio­nalised.

Currently, Metrorail carries over half of our commuters. It operates on less than 60 percent of the train sets it requires. Those it has are, to the greatest extent, long past their scrapping date.

The result is grossly overcrowde­d peak-hour trains that are almost invariably late, often because a train ahead of them has broken down.

At the heart of the deteriorat­ing quality of rail infrastruc­ture is the national government’s under-investment in rail services. As the rolling stock deteriorat­es and the infrastruc­ture crumbles, the number of Metrorail passengers has increased by 150 000 over the last three years as the current economic recession bites.

I have seen first-hand the misery of the daily commute to work or school, particular­ly for women and school children on my numerous train trips since becoming minister.

Put bluntly, the state of rail passenger services is an affront to the human dignity of commuters.

We need at least 40 additional trainsets to provide decent passen- ger rail services. The greatest needs are on the Khayelitsh­a and Mitchells Plain lines and on the section from Kraaifonte­in to Bellville.

We need trains that get people to work on time, that are safe and that operate for 18 hours a day, and don’t close down at 7pm. We need scheduled road-based transport that gets commuters to the stations, or to their destinatio­ns in areas where there is no rail transport.

But above all, Metrorail needs to be recapitali­sed.

What then is the problem? Lucky Montana, the CEO of the Passenger Rail Associatio­n of SA (Prasa) and Metrorail, shares the concern of the national minister and myself. Prasa’s capital requiremen­ts have been known to its parent national department of transport for years. National Transport does not have a budget to meet those capital requiremen­ts. In the end it is the national cabinet, and more specifical­ly, the Treasury, who make decisions on infrastruc­tural investment of this magnitude.

They appear to have no plans to invest in commuter rail, but they are pouring billions into peripheral freeways being built by the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) around our major cities.

This is because Sanral is a highly efficient and innovative entity that has been able to develop a sustainabl­e project-funding model, and not because peripheral roads solve any long term-transport problems.

Investing in peripheral roads and not in public transport flies in the face of global experience over the last 50 years. Those cities that went the route of peripheral roads, like Los Angeles, now bitterly regret the decision, and are desperatel­y trying to make up for the years of neglecting their public transport.

Their great peripheral­s are more congested than ever, and the cost of creating viable public transport in a fully developed city is horrendous. That is why it is my policy to invest in public transport and not in building new roads.

Successful cities and urban regions around the world are investing heavily in public transport, with significan­t benefits for their citizens, the environmen­t, the economy and in the reduction of energy costs.

In the end, we have learned that nothing more profoundly determines the future of our cities – for better or worse – than their public transport systems.

Unlike Los Angeles, and despite the limitation­s of our mountains and the sea, we already have a surprising­ly good commuter rail network. If its creaking infrastruc­ture and its shortage of rolling stock is addressed, it could carry a million commuters a day, reliably and safely.

This is the Metrorail I am determined to see in the Western Cape.

A rehabilita­ted Metrorail then becomes the basis for integratin­g bus rapid transport and convention­al bus and taxi operations into a public transport system that will transform the lives of our commuters, invigorate our local economy, bridge the apartheid barriers of the city, reverse the increasing congestion on our roads and improve the quality of life for all.

It is clear to me that for this vision to be realised there needs to be one central authority for transport in the metropolit­an area, embracing Cape Town, Paarl, Stellenbos­ch and Malmesbury. This authority would include all the major public transport players including Metrorail.

There is also considerab­le private sector interest that needs to be accommodat­ed. Simultaneo­usly, a sustainabl­e public transport fund- ing model needs to be developed. We have the expertise in Cape Town to do both of these, and there is also some R900m of subsidy that the Treasury provides for the various transport operations in the Metro.

At the heart of any sustainabl­e funding solution lies effective integratio­n. This implies rationalis­ation of services, appropriat­e bus configurat­ions, schedules based on passenger needs,removal of duplicatio­n and competitio­n, integrated fares and excellent operationa­l man- agement.

Many of the urban public transport systems around the world are driving down passenger/mile costs at the same time as they are increasing market shares and improving services.

In Cape Town we have special challenges because our highest commuter densities are far from the city centre and our commutes are, by internatio­nal standards, very long. They are, however, challenges, and not insuperabl­e obstacles.

To move effectivel­y towards both of these goals, the city and the province are developing seamless co-ordination and a common vision.

Last year we formed the Transport Steering Committee made up of the top political and administra­tive management in transport; finance and law enforcemen­t from the city and the province to achieve just that. We now need to extend this collaborat­ion to the adjoining local authoritie­s. I believe Metrorail will support the concept, and I am scheduled to meet with CEO, Lucky Montana, this week.

While my department and I are totally committed to improving public transport, the challenge is daunting. Bureaucrac­ies will have to be breached; long-held assumption­s overturned; sceptics converted, and the Treasury persuaded that the proposal is financiall­y sound and in the public’s best interest.

In my first days of office, I asked one of the most respected academic elders in the province what were the things that this administra­tion should and could do that would most positively improve the lives of our people. Without hesitation he replied “fix education and get a decent public transport system going”.

Both of those undertakin­gs are under way. They are neither easy nor short term. Both require the active collaborat­ion of other spheres of government that are not controlled by the Democratic Alliance. Neverthele­ss, by 2014, we will have tangible results to show, and irreversib­le processes will be under way.

● Robin Carlisle is the Western Cape MEC for Transport.

 ??  ?? OFF THE RAILS: The national government’s under-investment in rail services lies at the heart of our deteriorat­ing infrastruc­ture, says the writer.
OFF THE RAILS: The national government’s under-investment in rail services lies at the heart of our deteriorat­ing infrastruc­ture, says the writer.

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