Shacks erected on the Central line, just outside Langa train station. Picture: Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA)
Shacks erected on the Central line, just outside Langa train station. Picture: Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town's public transport is in crisis and commuters are 'left in the lurch'

By Mwangi Githahu Time of article published Jun 25, 2021

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Cape Town - The public transport system in the province, and especially Cape Town, has all but collapsed – with the passenger rail system at an almost complete standstill because of vandalism and railway invasions, the Golden Arrow Bus Services (Gabs) beset by robberies and arson, the minibus taxi industry engulfed in open warfare – with shootings almost on a daily basis – and a major route of the MyCiTi bus service halted since last year.

Prasa said that, since 2019, there has been a 66% decrease in weekday train services throughout the province. This translates to 293 fewer trains operating every single day.

The provincial Department of Transport and Public Works said Metrorail has lost about two-thirds of its passengers and more than half of its rolling stock due to arson attacks.

According to Prasa chairperson Leonard Ramatlakane the Metrorail issue was exacerbated during level 5 of the lockdown, when thousands of homeless people – in Langa and surrounds – began illegally occupying the tracks and even railway yards.

Briefing the legislature’s transport standing committee, Ramatlakane said Prasa had been in talks with the mayor and City officials since September 2020, around the issue of a land swap that would see the illegal occupiers left in place and Prasa rebuild its railway yard further down the train line, but to no avail.

However, the City rejected accusations of dragging its feet around the issue of a land swap with Prasa.

Mayco member for human settlements Malusi Booi said: “The City has been offering constructive solutions to this challenge throughout. We had also urged Prasa to take action early to prevent this situation from occurring.

United Commuters' Voice (UCV) spokesperson João Jardim said they are disturbed at the way Metrorail has left commuters in the lurch.

“Commuters are left to their own devices, while vandalism, theft, murder and mayhem are the rule of the day, this happening in full view of the police and security.

“The story does not get any better with MyCiTi or with Gabs. The stench of gross incompetence and unwillingness to fix what is broken is unfortunately what we – as commuters – must deal with on a daily basis,” said Jardim.

Good Party secretary general Brett Herron said the mayor should be doing everything he possibly can to facilitate public transport among Cape Town’s poorest and most far-flung communities.

“The City’s tardy response to the public transport system collapse is a dereliction of duty. Metrorail’s collapse has been compounded by the collapse of the MyCiTi N2 Express bus service, to Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha,” said Herron.

City spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo said the the City’s hands were tied, while it waited for a judgment in a June 2020 application, brought by the Codeta taxi association, to have the N2 Express Company liquidated.

“The application is opposed by two of the three shareholders, namely Gabs and Route Six Taxi Association,” said Tyhalibongo.

In an attempt to turn the taxi industry into a proper business and away from a criminal enterprise, the provincial government developed the Blue Dot taxi scheme, an innovative strategy that will reward taxi owners and drivers for good driving behaviour. The pilot project went live in May.

The nine-month pilot will see the participation of about 1 300 minibus taxis, distributed across the province, in a new incentive programme that rewards improved driving behaviour and higher service quality, while encouraging reduced instances of illegal operations.

Transport and Public Works MEC Daylin Mitchell said: “The cost of this transport crisis to the economy is huge and is particularly damaging to the ability of the poor to access opportunities, such as work, education and services.”

“Ultimately, the Western Cape government would like to see urgent action to progress Cape Town and the Western Cape, towards a good quality, dignified multi-modal public transport system – with integration between rail and other modes of public and private transport,” said Mitchell.

President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry Jacques Moolman said: “The only rational solution to the present chaos would be either the City or the province taking on the task, possibly in alliance with the private sector, of running the passenger rail service.”

Transport and Public Works standing committee chairperson Ricardo Mackenzie (DA) said he will table a motion calling for the devolution of rail services to provincial governments, for debate in the legislature.

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