Gau­train’s R1.6bn sub­sidy

Tax­pay­ers cough up as pas­sen­ger num­bers show marked de­cline due to sev­eral fac­tors

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - ANNA COX [email protected] @an­na­cox

GAUT­ENG’S provin­cial tax­pay­ers are fork­ing out a whop­ping R100mil­lion a month, or al­most R1.6bil­lion a year, to sub­sidise the run­ning of the Gau­train as the num­ber of pas­sen­gers has been de­clin­ing over the past two years.

The provin­cial grant, called the pa­tron­age guar­an­tee, means the prov­ince will sub­sidise the dif­fer­ence be­tween the in­come from the pas­sen­ger fees and what is ac­tu­ally spent. This will help cover op­er­at­ing, main­te­nance and the pri­vate sec­tor por­tion of the cap­i­tal costs un­til the num­ber of pas­sen­gers is suf­fi­cient to meet the op­er­at­ing costs.

This means that the num­ber of pas­sen­gers needs to in­crease to re­duce the pa­tron­age guar­an­tee.

This amount has been raised from R821m in 2013, to R1.099bn in 2015 to now al­most R1.6bn for the 2017/18 fi­nan­cial year.

In the 2017/18 an­nual re­port, Gau­train Man­age­ment Agency (GMA) chief ex­ec­u­tive Jack van der Merwe said: “The ex­ter­nal en­vi­ron­ment re­mained volatile and the low rates of eco­nomic growth in the metropoli­tan ar­eas served by the Gau­train im­pacted neg­a­tively on growth in pas­sen­ger trips.

“This slow rate of growth and other fac­tors turned steady his­tor­i­cal growth in Gau­train pas­sen­ger trips from June 2010 into a net de­cline for both train and pas­sen­ger trips in the 2017/18 fi­nan­cial year. Com­pared with the pre­vi­ous fi­nan­cial year, train pas­sen­ger trips de­clined by 3.8% and bus pas­sen­ger trips de­clined by 6.3%. This was de­spite the fact that tar­gets of avail­abil­ity and punc­tu­al­ity were met at an av­er­age avail­abil­ity of 99.5% and an av­er­age punc­tu­al­ity of 98.6% for all trips sched­uled for the fi­nan­cial year.

“The on­go­ing threat of vi­o­lence be­tween e-hail­ing taxi ser­vices and me­tered taxi driv­ers out­side or near Gau­train sta­tions con­tin­ued and re­sulted in de­ter­ring po­ten­tial pas­sen­gers from trans­fer­ring be­tween train and taxi modes. This is a chal­lenge that will need a co-or­di­nated re­sponse from all spheres of gov­ern­ment,” he said.

An­other rea­son for dwin­dling pas­sen­ger num­bers is con­ges­tion at peak hours on the trains.

How­ever, in a catch-22 sit­u­a­tion, the GMA put out ten­ders last year for an ad­di­tional 48 coaches, but all three short­listed bid­ders failed. This was an­nounced in De­cem­ber last year, so the process has to start all over again and could take many months, which means that the new rolling stock in­tended to ease con­ges­tion could take years to ma­te­ri­alise.

GMA spokesper­son Tlago Ra­malepa con­ceded that the growth in pas­sen­ger trips on the Gau­train had slowed con­sid­er­ably after sev­eral years of higher-than-ex­pected growth.

She re­it­er­ated that one of the rea­sons for the slow­down in pas­sen­ger num­bers was the lack of ca­pac­ity on trains in the peak morn­ing and af­ter­noon pe­ri­ods, when most com­muters travel to and from work.

“Prior to com­menc­ing with the pro­cure­ment of the Gau­train Project, the Gaut­eng provin­cial gov­ern­ment pre­pared a com­pre­hen­sive fea­si­bil­ity study and fi­nan­cial model. At that time, it was clear that, like the vast ma­jor­ity of pas­sen­ger rail projects around the world, the Gau­train would re­quire gov­ern­ment fi­nan­cial sup­port,” she said.

This sup­port was de­fined in two parts – the cap­i­tal con­tri­bu­tion that the prov­ince would have to make in the de­vel­op­ment pe­riod, and the pa­tron­age guar­an­tee that the prov­ince would have to make dur­ing the op­er­at­ing pe­riod.

GMA’s re­sponse to manag­ing the pa­tron­age guar­an­tee, said Ra­malepa, was to is­sue a vari­a­tion no­tice to the con­ces­sion­aire, Bombela, to pro­cure more rolling stock and thereby in­crease train ca­pac­ity.

“The process of procur­ing ad­di­tional rolling stock, which was started in 2016, re­sulted in no bid be­ing awarded to­wards the end of 2018. In terms of con­fi­den­tial­ity un­der­tak­ings in the bid­ding process, the GMA is not in a po­si­tion to dis­close the rea­sons for the as­sess­ment of non-com­pli­ance for bid­ders.”

Bid­ding will start again in the next few weeks, she added.

Since the start of op­er­a­tions in 2010, growth in train use in­creased to a peak of 1400190 pas­sen­gers per month in May 2017. Growth in bus use in­creased to 458 974 pas­sen­gers per month dur­ing the same month.

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