Pretoria - Passengers saw the Gautrain as a reliable and safer travelling option in the beginning, but now peak-hour users say their experience has turned out to be the opposite.
They have begun using phrases like “as bad as Metrorail trains” and “world class service in name only” to describe the multibillion-rand rapid rail system.
They have highlighted overcrowding and a lack of parking at stations as the biggest problems they face daily.
Passengers have urged management to come to their rescue urgently before they have to find other means of getting to work.
Commuters who board the Gautrain from Pretoria, Centurion and Midrand to Joburg or Sandton and back during peak hours are worst affected. These passengers say the situation has gone from bad to worse over the past year without any intervention from authorities.
Morné Janse van Rensburg said he used the Gautrain daily from Centurion. The problem began with the scramble for parking the moment he got to the station.
Janse van Rensburg said the only way to get a parking spot was to get to the station before 6.30am. “We need eight-car trains and more parking facilities. The situation cannot carry on like this,” he said.
Alta Asare shared his sentiments: “Bigger trains and more parking are needed, yet management has done nothing. After 9am, everything runs smoothly, but I have to be at work in Sandton before 8am.
“This leaves me with no choice but to be brave, board the train, listen to music on my cellphone, and have other passengers pressing against me all the way to Sandton.”
Tina de Rijk, a senior citizen, said the Gautrain was supposed to be her saviour because of her age, but was proving to be a nightmare.
“It’s a mess, a horror story every morning and evening. I really wish they could sort out parking and build bigger trains,” she said.
“I have had a parked car stolen elsewhere before and I’m never going to park on the streets again.
“This leaves me with no choice but to get to my station, Rhodesfield, early in the morning to try to get parking.”
Lebogang Molefe told the Pretoria News that the Gautrain was just a glorified Metrorail.
“I got a seat today because I woke up very early. It’s been months since I travelled comfortably in the Gautrain. The overcrowding reminds me of Metrorail, but travelling in affluent areas with lots of people wearing jackets and ties. Without these people, it’s honestly no different from Metrorail.
“By current standards, Gautrain is not worth the money I load in my card every month. I might as well drive to work rather than commute under these conditions.”
Nambitha Tlouoe’s daily trip to Sandton is just as bad.
Tlouoe said: “To me, Gautrain is just a Metrorail, but with doors that close and air conditioners, and serving the middle to upper class. Without these, it would be unappealing as a mode of transport.
“I dread going to the station every morning. The stress begins after 3pm at work when I start thinking about the trip home.”
Gautrain builder and operator the Bombela Concession Company acknowledged the excessive pressure on the system and promised that help was on the way.
Spokesman Tlago Ramalepa said demand for the Gautrain’s train and bus services had continued to grow, with 27 percent more people using trains and an increase of 53 percent in bus passengers last year.
“More than 50 000 and 20 000 passengers use the train and bus services on a typical weekday. This growth in passenger demand can be ascribed to the Gautrain’s relentless focus on key customer satisfaction criteria, including safety, reliability and cost-effectiveness.
“External factors such as the increasing cost of fuel and the introduction of e-tolls have encouraged many motorists to investigate other modes of commuting.”
Ramalepa said travel patterns and demand levels on the Gautrain were closely and continually monitored. Train demand was highest between 6am and 8am travelling towards Sandton, from the north and east. The pattern reversed in the afternoon, with demand peaking between about 3.30pm and 6pm.
“In response to these travel patterns and the ever-increasing demand for its services, the Gautrain has for the past year implemented several measures to increase on-track capacity. This strategy will continue, subject to actual demand and available system resources,” Ramalepa said.
“On-track capacity is, however, also limited by the train fleet size as well as by operational constraints imposed by the track layout, the signalling system, and the single tunnel section between the Sandton and Park stations (which affected train frequencies).
“The introduction of an additional seventh eight-car train is planned for the morning peak (and later, another during the afternoon peak hour) on the north-south line. This will make available at least two additional eight-car trains in peak periods.”
Other measures are:
Longer-term options that are being studied include procuring additional rolling stock, enhancing the signalling system, constructing extra track loops, and doubling the tunnel between Sandton and Park stations, according to Bombela.
Customers are also requested to consider varying their commuting hours to avoid the peak demand periods.
“The 15 percent off-peak discount implemented in June last year provides a significant incentive to travel earlier or later,” Ramalepa said.
“Also, a train only 12 minutes earlier or later often has significant spare capacity.”
The Gautrain system includes about 10 000 parking bays, with 9 500 of these being used daily during the week. Longer-term solutions include procuring extra parking space, as has been done at Rhodesfield. This was being planned at Midrand, Centurion and Pretoria.
In the interim, customers should investigate other ways of getting to stations, such as being dropped off, lift clubs and other modes of transport, Ramalepa said.