Insure your car, home and valuables with iWYZE
THE GAUTRAIN is great. The Metrorail? Hmm…” his face dropped.
“This is difficult…”
This was President Jacob Zuma’s attempt to describe his experience as he was half-way through his evaluation tour of Gauteng’s public transport yesterday morning.
These few words were a succinct summary of the current state of Gauteng’s train systems, which Zuma believes need to be developed.
Workers are late or don’t make it to their jobs because of the trains, and Zuma said it was obvious that this was affecting production and thus the economy across the city.
Public transport “must be developed”, the president said at Park Station.
Zuma had decided to have a look for himself and so made his way from Pretoria to Joburg and then to Soweto using Metrorail, the Gautrain and a Rea Vaya bus.
And identify problems he did, so evident were they on the first leg of the journey, on Metrorail, from Pretoria to Rhodesfield station in Kempton Park.
Rather than take a private carriage, Zuma and numerous other transport delegates stood alongside the hundreds of commuters taking the train from Pretoria Station.
The usual commuters were at first shocked to see the president among them. Then they flocked towards him, either desperate to meet him or to complain about the state of the trains: congested, unreliable, unsafe and inaccessible, according to passengers.
While a number of security personnel kept most of the calmly approaching commuters at bay, these complaints were thrown in the faces of the president, Transport MEC Ismail Vadi, new Transport Minister Ben Martins and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
“It is an honour to ride with the president, to see him suffer like the rest of us,” said Johanna Baloyi. She complained that the stations were out of touch with their trains, and were never able to announce when trains were late.
Vadi told a troubled passenger, Marcus Seloane, about the government’s plan to revamp the train system in the next three to four years.
He said his goal was to implement new standards in public transport that he named Rasa – reliable, affordable, safe and accessible.
Gordhan, also crammed into one of the nearby carriages, spoke of how the state had recognised that we “are a few steps behind” with certain aspects of public transport.
“It (the integration of various forms of transport countrywide) can be done fairly quickly if we put our minds to it,” Gordhan said.
It became clear once the group reached the Gautrain that some aspects of the transport system were working, but might be too expensive for the man in the street.
Hundreds of schoolchildren near Rhodesfield station screamed with excitement as the president arrived. But none of them was set to travel on the silver bullet, with only a small number of travellers boarding at 8.45am.
In a carriage with less than a third of the crowd that filled the Metrorail train, Zuma rode comfortably to his next destination, Park Station.
In an unplanned part of the journey, Zuma and his delegates visited the taxi rank directly opposite the station, to determine the state of non-government transport.
Venturing through the urine-soaked rank, Zuma met numerous drivers.
Hundreds of commuters joined in the walk, following the president with shouts of his name and songs like Umshini wami.
At about 10.30am, Zuma prepared to board a Rea Vaya bus for the last leg of his journey to Dlamini in Soweto, to attend a community meeting. The three Rea Vaya buses waiting to take Zuma and his task team were filled quickly, ready for the short and stable trip to Dlamini.
However, police brigades and escorts along the way allowed the bus free access to the roads and few stops were made. No regular commuters could fit on to the crowded buses to tell the president their own opinion of the bus system.