PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma and some of his ministers yesterday experienced for themselves the frustration Gauteng commuters using public transport have to face daily.
Zuma undertook a monitoring visit of the public transport system in the province. He travelled from Pretoria Station to Dlamini in Soweto using various modes of public transport.
First he caught the Metrorail passenger train from Pretoria Station to Rhodesfield. There he hopped on the Gautrain to Park Station in Joburg.
He then boarded the Rea Vaya bus from the Joburg CBD to Dlamini in Soweto, where he held a meeting with community members.
Many commuters were shocked to see Zuma and his huge contingent of officials and security personnel.
The mood at the Pretoria Station was different to the normal early morning rush, with passengers first being alerted that something was in the air by the government banners and gazebos outside the station.
Zuma arrived at about 7am at the Pretoria Station to buy his train ticket.
He was immediately swamped by the media and commuters who wanted to get a glimpse of the president and tell him their stories.
The president was immediately ushered into a room and briefed before boarding the Metrorail train.
His presence on the train caused much commotion as he was flanked by many bodyguards and police officers.
Some commuters were frustrated as they could not reach him.
But those who got the chance to get close to him, told Zuma how they were late for work most of the time. They also complained about the recent fare hikes.
The lack of safety measures on some trains and how the trains were often overcrowded during the morning and afternoon rush hour were also raised by commuters.
The train service had to be improved drastically as it was their most affordable means of transport, they told Zuma.
“The fares have gone up but the quality of service is not improving. Are we going to see more fare increases even though the trains still come late and people get injured in them,” asked a woman who boarded the train at Oakmoor train station in Tembisa.
Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane answered on Zuma’s behalf, saying the Passenger Rail Agency of SA was responsible for the train fares. The (government) was more concerned about the safety and efficiency of the train service, and to make sure people arrived at their destinations safely and on time.
Another commuter told Zuma there were hardly any security guards on some trains and he knew of many people who have died during rush hour when everybody was struggling to get inside the train before it left a platform.
Zuma then boarded the Gautrain at Rhodesfield, where a group of schoolchildren and commuters broke into song with his trademark Umshini wami song.
The contrast between the Metrorail trains and Gautrain was glaringly apparent, with fewer passengers and absolutely no overcrowding on the train.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who accompanied Zuma, said it was important for him to see for himself what people went through on a daily basis. “In order to develop the right policies we need to know what is happening on the ground and that’s the president’s approach.
“It’s important for us to listen to what the people are telling us about the overcrowding, breakdowns and safety issues that they encounter.
“There are some improvement and encouraging elements of the public transport system, but we must focus on where the problems and challenges are, said Gordhan.