Cape Town - He is on a mission to convince the public to give Metrorail another chance.
And although there is no fixed name for his campaign, activist Lorenzo Davids refers to it as ‘Justice for Public Transport’.
Davids started the campaign in January with the documenting of his train journey every morning on It’s 7:45am as I arrive in Cape Town. A clean train - other than a coffee spill by a commuter. Have a safe day, Cape Town. pic.twitter.com/sBK6LYS0kG
It’s 7:45am as I arrive in Cape Town. A clean train - other than a coffee spill by a commuter. Have a safe day, Cape Town. pic.twitter.com/sBK6LYS0kG— Lorenzo Davids (@UrbanLo) June 6, 2022 ">Twitter, urging commuters to make use of the rail service as it is cost-effective.
The rail service in the province, especially in poorer communities, has been brought to its knees by the torching of trains before the Covid-19 pandemic, vandalism to its infrastructure and the occupation of rail tracks by desperate residents.
Commuters are having to spend most of their salary on transport as taxis and buses continue to hike their fares.
In a recent statement, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) said that work had begun to restore the services on the Central line between Cape Town and Langa while the process to relocate the informal settlements is under way. The Cape Town to Langa via Mutual services in are operational, while Cape Town to Langa via Pinelands is 90% ready for recovery. Work is under way to restore the services between Langa and Nyanga as well as Cape Town to Bellville via Sarepta, as part of phase 1 of the recovery programme.
“We have put in place an integrated security plan to safeguard and protect our infrastructure. Plans have also been put in place to prevent further encroachment on our rail reserve. Prasa is rebuilding the damaged rail network corridor by corridor, track by track,” said Prasa.
Davids believes that a functioning rail service is what keeps communities going.
“I have been using trains all my life, from my school and student days I had a very active train life to get to and from. When I started working I continued using trains even though I owned a car. This year in January I deliberately went back to trains because we sort of had a year and half of no trains and I began a very public campaign because we need to see the rail service as the backbone of our economic revival.”
Davids served as the former chief executive officer of Community Chest for eight years, a development organisation that distributes funding to hundreds of NGOs across the country and spent more than 30 years in the development of non-profit and non-governmental organisations as well as in the social justice arena. He is a founding board member of The Big Issue and Christel House South Africa (a school for impoverished communities) and served on boards including Beth Uriel, Media Village, Justice and Reconciliation, The City Mission World Association, Beautiful Gates SA, Viva Network and The Carpenter’s Shop.
He is the CEO of The Justice xFund and completed his BA Honours at UWC and is currently doing his Master of Philosophy in Inclusive Innovation at UCT’s Graduate School of Business.
“Globally, trains are used as the most important public transport infrastructure to get people across cities and across countries. It is the actual artery that keeps cities functioning throughout the world. Public transport and the train service in particular is a contributor to the equality in a democracy because it places people who do not normally sit together, talk together and travel together within the same public space.”
From his house in Plumstead to his office in Cape Town, it costs him R11.50 by train to travel. The same journey costs him R35 to R50 per day for petrol. When there are no trains it costs him R24 to take two minibus taxis to Cape Town.
“There are great benefits within rail service and the fact that the government is not rushing to fix the rail service is an indictment on them because it is providing a burden to poor people. My campaign is calling for the government to put money back into poor people’s pockets especially on the Northern, Central and Cape flats lines.”
“In my experience on the Southern line, post pandemic the trains were always full, it was conversational and people would greet you. The train was mixed with different cultures and filled with scholars and different commuters. When I started using the trains again this year, I was alone at my station. The trains are slowly building up but they are not full. I feel safe because there are security guards and ticket examiners on the train,” he said.
Davids said that his message to the public is to stop vandalism of rail infrastructure because the prosperity needed in democracy is linked to the rail system. He has urged commuters to return to the train service as other modes of transport damage climate efficiency.