Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said one of his ministry’s top priorities was rail safety and promised to work with Police Minister Bheki Cele on the issue. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Cape Town - Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said one of his ministry’s top priorities was rail safety and promised to work with Police Minister Bheki Cele on the issue.

Delivering his budget vote for the year 2019/2020, Mbalula said he was determined to turn the Passanger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) around as per President Cyril Ramaphosa’s directive earlier in the year. He said, “a decisive intervention to turn around Prasa and improve its operational performance while rebuilding its engineering capacity to drive the modernisation programme is in place”.

The minister said the process would be driven by what he termed “the ministerial war room”, which he said “will play an oversight role”.

“The ministerial war room will also guide interventions to realise three key objectives. The first being service recovery to focus on rolling stock availability and reliability, infrastructure availability and reliability and train performance. Specific targets that must be realised in the next 100 days include improving on-time performance of Metrorail from 73.3% to 85%,” said Mbalula.

“The second objective is safety management, which entails putting in place effective measures to protect rolling stock, staging yards, perway, electrical and signal infrastructure, depots, stations and most importantly, passengers on board our trains.

“Integral to this is achieving full compliance with the Railway Safety Regulator permit conditions and directives. I will be engaging with the minister of police to look at ways we can strengthen the capacity and visibility of the railway police in the Metrorail environment, so we can reverse the negative impact of rampant crime in our environment,” he said.

Fikile Mbalula

While the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) welcomed the speech, they were critical of his lack of detail on issues such as the transport subsidy.

“During the 2018 bus strike, employers complained they could not afford to pay workers more because the subsidies they received were too meagre to assist.

“One company took its case to the Labour Court in a bid to prove it could not afford to pay the negotiated wage increase,” said the union.

“One of the companies we organise in is on the brink of insolvency as it cannot pay its creditors, salaries or even buy fuel to operate its buses.

“The company blames its financial woes on non-profitable, outdated government contracts whose rates are not market related. The CEO alleges the bus company has not received a cash injection from government for capital expenditure or operations,” the union said.

They said they were worried that if the government did not intervene, the company would shut down leaving about 1 800 workers jobless.

Other highlights of the minister’s budget speech included a promise to “arrest the carnage on our roads”.

“The implementation of a 24-hour, seven-day shift within the traffic law enforcement fraternity has become more urgent than ever before.”

@MwangiGithahu

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Cape Argus