Cape Town - Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, is writing his second letter in a week to national Transport Minister Blade Nzimande relating to the Metrorail crisis in the city.
While Nzimande’s special adviser, Nqabekaya Nqandela, has acknowledged receipt of the first request calling for a state of emergency or disaster to be declared due to Cape Town’s rail services being under siege, Herron has yet to receive a response from the minister. When the Cape Times made an enquiry on Friday, Nqandela wasn’t willing to comment on the matter.
When he visited the Passenger Rail Agency's (Prasa) Paarden Eiland depot at the end of July, where he viewed the damage to the state-owned enterprise's infrastructure after various arson attacks, Nzimande declared the city's rail transport "situation" the worst in the country.
One of six mayoral candidates in line to take over from Patricia de Lille, who departs on October 31, Herron believes in a collaborative approach should he be given the job. It’s this same collaborative approach he is seeking from the national government when it comes to transport in the city. Hence his latest letter concerns the assignment of the bus function to the city due to the "fragmentation of authority".
Metrorail this week blamed its failure to provide alternative transport for thousands of Central Line commuters left stranded, among other things, on the number of commuters they have to cater for being too large. There has been a call from Cosatu and activist groups this week for Golden Arrow buses to be provided in the event of train commuters being stranded.
Herron told the Cape Times on Friday: “I haven’t had a response from Minister Nzimande to my email other than the acknowledgement, but I am about to write him a follow-up letter. Because I see there is some pressure from activist groups and Cosatu for buses to be made available to assist rail passengers when the rail network isn’t functioning.
“For the last five or six years, we have been asking for the assignment of the bus function to the city. If we can get the assignment of all the land-based public transport – rail, bus in addition to our BRT – we can actually integrate and respond to that demand.
“But at the moment you gave got buses run by Golden Arrow which is under provincial government, rail is operated under national government authority and BRT is operated under the city’s authority. So if we have all those public transport modes under one authority, then it would be seamless for us to say if there is a train failure, let’s send our Golden Arrow buses there and the people can use their same monthly ticket to hop on the bus.
“At the moment that can’t happen because of this fragmentation of authority. So I am busy writing to the minister again to raise that the solution lies in what we have been asking for over the last six years – to assign these functions to us.
“The previous minister agreed to assign the Golden Arrow bus function to us, but then she was shuffled out of office. That’s why we’re asking Minister Nzimande what executive powers he has to declare an emergency or a disaster situation so that we can get extra funding and resources being brought to bear on the Western Cape issue of the Metrorail service. Firstly, to increase the rail capacity, we need more trains on the tracks and we need money to turn around the rehabilitation of the burn-out, destroyed carriages and trains quickly.
“We have a small 100-person rail enforcement unit that we are rolling out and it will certainly help if we can have a much larger focus on securing a safer rail environment in terms of both infrastructure and passengers.
“It seems as if the letter wasn’t totally ignored because we had this agreement with Prasa that all three parties involved would provide R16 million towards setting up this joint unit. And Prasa had failed to pay and given that it is their obligation to ensure a safe and secure environment for passengers, I thought it was reckless and careless that they hadn’t. That letter or media statement did prompt Prasa to fly down to Cape Town on Tuesday and promise to resolve the issue."
The big question is whether a "broken" Prasa, which declared a loss of close to R1 billion this week for 2016/17, will actually pay. “They promised to pay by October so we’ll see. If they don’t pay, we will have a big problem to implement what we even promised and that puts the whole project in jeopardy as far as I am concerned.
“The Western Cape, I think, should be the priority for Prasa given that the percentage of commuters across the nodes on rail is high in the Western Cape, although it is falling rapidly and we need to arrest that fall.”
Aside from endeavouring to build transport stability, Herron believes he can unite and refocus a divided DA caucus as mayor.
“We have had a year of almost unprecedented political instability. But the next mayor, who will also be the leader of our caucus, will have to work very hard to unite that caucus around the common cause that brought us all into that room, which is to serve the people of Cape Town and to implement the DA’s local government manifesto, which made a whole lot of promises.
“We need to get our focus back on what we promised to deliver and make sure that we are honouring those promises so that we are honouring the trust that was empowered to us when we got our 66% mandate in 2016.
“I have a collaborative style of working and I think I have demonstrated that I can work with anyone across communities. I will do whatever it takes to unite the caucus around that purpose.
"I will also absolutely stand behind whoever is elected mayor. There is a process and our leadership will select who they regard as the best candidate to lead the city in the remaining two-and-a-half years of office. If it is not me, I will support whoever is selected and I will serve the city in whatever capacity I am asked to serve in.
The "pro-poor" Herron admits that the job of mayor is “full of complexities and there are no simple answers, but the starting point is to have a mayor that understands all of those complexities and how they are interlinked”.
“We have been named the top opportunity city in Africa. But that opportunity is meaningless unless it provides a real opportunity for employment and an opportunity out of poverty for those who are unemployed.
"So we have to translate this global recognition of the city that has opportunities and understand how that can become meaningful for that unemployed person who is probably under the age of 34, who is under- or unskilled in the service of the economy that Cape Town is very strong in. My focus would be to ensure that the city of opportunity is not a lost opportunity for those who are currently excluded from the economy."