South Africa


Back to work for commuters, but the trains are scarce

Back to work for commuters, but the trains are scarce
Workers sanitise a train before it leaves Cape Town station. While additional train services are set to resume, only two city rail routes are operating. (Photo: Suné Payne)

Under Level 1 coronavirus regulations, more people will head back to work using either private vehicles or public transport. For those using public transport there are limitations, notably at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa.

Only two lines have been operational at Metrorail in Cape Town since the resumption of train services on 1 July. Services are slowly expected to resume, with the line running to Bellville and Monte Vista expected to begin running in early October. 

Presently, there are two lines operational in Cape Town: The Cape Flats Line from Cape Town to Retreat and the Southern Line, from Cape Town to Fish Hoek station. Daily Maverick took a train ride to see what travel is like under the “new normal”. 

We arrived at the Cape Town station — the biggest train station in the city, to take a train to Observatory station on the Southern Line. As we entered the concourse area, the area with a few ATMs, shops and food outlets, there was no enforcement of mask-wearing. Some men boldly walked into the concourse with bare faces, despite face coverings being required when in public spaces. 

When asked about the mask-wearing, Western Cape Metrorail marketing and communications manager Riana Scott told Daily Maverick:

“Station security protocol was revised as more entrances to Cape Town Station (opened) to facilitate trade for shops/trading within the concourse… where limited entrances could be monitored, patrols now ensure that commuters comply”. 

Scott told Daily Maverick that no commuters are permitted into the turnstiles or ticket offices without a mask and “commuters are also advised to assume personal responsibility to ensure compliance”. 

There were no sanitisers in the women’s bathrooms. When Daily Maverick asked Scott about the lack of sanitisers in the bathrooms, she responded:

“All ablutions are stocked with soap and water. Sanitising happens before ticket purchases and at turnstiles (either contactless sanitising stations or hand-administered spray bottles).” 

But Daily Maverick was not offered sanitiser while purchasing tickets or at the turnstiles. We were only asked to show our tickets. 

Also, there was no signage indicating what time the next train arrives. The dashboard that normally displays train times now says, “keep safe, sanitise or wash your hands”. When Daily Maverick asked at the information desk about the signage, we were told to listen to station announcements for the next train, as the trains were on a Sunday schedule. 

When the train arrived 20 minutes later, four men wearing green uniforms and carrying plastic containers were spraying sanitiser in the train. We boarded, with six officials from the South African Police Services. 

After stopping at least five times, we made it to Observatory station in about 20 minutes. 

Getting a train back to the Cape Town station was another story. At Observatory station, nobody checked for mask-wearing and no sanitiser was available. Again, there was no sanitising at the ticket sales booth and nobody to check if you had a ticket. 

Half an hour later the train arrived, this time stopping four times between Observatory and Cape Town stations. Daily Maverick did observe workers scattered across the railway lines, appearing to be repairing tracks.

After the train trip, Daily Maverick asked Scott if additional lines would be opened, to which she replied that “as lockdown levels and concomitant regulations ease, more employees are able to return to work. Under Level 2 regulations about 50% of employees were permitted to return to work (on alternate days/shifts). This will enable more stations to be resourced, expanding currently limited South and Cape Flats services. The next services to be readiness assessed for resumption during October are from CPT-Bellville via Monte Vista and CPT-Parow via Salt River.”

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula is expected to announce new regulations on transportation before 1 October. Speaking to Daily Maverick on 24 September, Mbalula said the department is discussing the reopening of additional lines as well as the reopening of long-distance trains. DM


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