Metrorail passengers vandalised stalls and Prasa offices, and set two trains alight at Cape Town Station because of train delays recently. Picture: Phando Jikelo/ANA Pictures
Cape Town - 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 Metrorail 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”.

Weekend Argus