Ninety-two percent of Cape Town businesses believe the Metrorail commuter service is worse today than it was a year ago - 71% say it is “much worse” - and 86% say the poor service is a threat to their livelihood. This emerges from a member survey by the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The survey of between 95 and 295 businesses and institutions in the city (not all members responded to all questions) paints a grim picture of income and job losses, crime risks on the trains, greater labour relations strife, stress and sagging morale among employees, and a lack of confidence that Metrorail has the will or capacity to do anything about the problem.
Well over half of 221 respondents said they were “aware of job losses/dismissals as a result of work attendance problems” associated with problems in the commuter service.
Metrorail was approached for comment but had not responded by deadline.
Only 1.36% of the 295 who responded to the question, “How does the present Metrorail service compare with the service a year ago?” said it had improved, and 5.7% believed it had remained the same.
Of the 191 who responded to the question, “Do you think Metrorail has the capacity and the will to overcome its present problems?” 83.2% said no, and only 16.75% said yes.
“We knew the situation was bad, but the survey reveals it is even worse than we thought,” said chamber president Janine Myburgh. “Conditions on Metrorail trains have become a nightmare and employers tell of staff arriving at work in tears and leaving for home with fear in their eyes.”
Ninety-four percent of the 196 members who responded to the question said the stress associated with commuting by train, including overcrowding, had “impacted on the morale and even the mental health” of their workers. And 80% of a similar number of respondents reported that staff had been robbed or assaulted on the train in the past year.
Myburgh said about one-fifth of the respondents said “they had even considered relocating their businesses to reduce commuting problems”.
There had also been an impact on labour relations, with more than three quarters of businesses reporting “their industrial relations situation has worsened and 38% reporting that it was much worse”.
Myburgh said the survey showed businesses “have gone out of their way to help, with 41% changing starting times to make it easier for staff, 34% introducing flexitime and 9% allowing staff to work from home”.
She added: “The comments attached to the replies paint an even grimmer picture. Groping and fondling of both men and women (especially students) on the overcrowded trains is rife and people arrive at work too stressed to concentrate."
“Educational institutions and students have been especially hard hit with both lecturers and students arriving late for classes and exams. Absentee rates have increased and students have been unable to write exams."
“This has led to a decline in standards and there are now fears that these disruptions will have a long-term effect on skills development and careers. Businesses are losing money and employees are working shorter days and this reduces their pay packets.”
Myburgh said that “one bright spot in the survey was that 12.7% of respondents said that public transport had improved, with MyCiTi singled out for some warm praise”.