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Cape Town mayor threatens President with formal dispute process over rail devolution in wake of taxi strike

Cape Town mayor threatens President with formal dispute process over rail devolution in wake of taxi strike
The City of Cape Town wants a greater role in the running of the city’s train service. (Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Prasa has snubbed City of Cape Town’s attempts to take over management of Metrorail.

An intergovernmental dispute will be declared by the City of Cape Town against the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) if President Cyril Ramaphosa does not respond to a request to create a joint working committee on rail devolution by 31 August.

This is according to a statement released by Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis on Monday, and comes after numerous attempts by the City to negotiate a Service Level Agreement with Prasa, which runs Metrorail.

The need for a properly functioning train service in Cape Town was underlined by last week’s deadly taxi strike in which five people were killed and Golden Arrow buses, private vehicles and public infrastructure were torched, while commuters were stranded and unable to get home or to work.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Officials play blame game over Western Cape taxi strike as commuters suffer

The strike “demonstrated the urgent need for a safe, affordable passenger rail system”, stated Hill-Lewis.

According to the City’s latest Comprehensive Integrated Transport Plan, of the 33% of Cape Town commuters who rely on public transport, 67% use minibus taxis and just 6% use rail, which is a 95% decline in rail users since 2012. The remaining 27% use bus services such as Golden Arrow or MyCiTi.

As a result, when minibus taxi umbrella organisation Santaco announced a strike at about 2pm on Thursday 3 August, thousands of people had to walk up to 30km to get home, while some slept overnight at the Cape Town taxi rank.

In the face of Prasa’s failure to maintain and manage its rail service, the City wants to run it, as envisaged in the Land Transport Act.

A Service Level Agreement with Prasa would form the foundation of “the long-awaited devolution of rail” to the City, states Hill-Lewis, allowing the metropolitan municipality to ensure a safe, reliable and affordable rail service. He has previously stated that a Service Level Agreement with Prasa is legally required by the National Land Transport Act, but repeated requests to Prasa to comply have been snubbed.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Unlike secession, devolution of some powers to Western Cape is constitutionally possible

This is despite Cabinet passing the White Paper on National Rail Police in May 2022, which commits to devolving rail to capable metros, and to producing a Rail Devolution Strategy in 2023.

Yet in May, transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga rebuffed the City’s plans to take over passenger rail services.

GroundUp has seen at least four letters from City officials since January asking Prasa to negotiate an agreement, with a draft agreement already compiled by the City. However, according to Hill-Lewis, Prasa in late July stated they would not sign a binding Service Level Agreement “given the current state of rail services”.

This comes after a non-binding memorandum of understanding was entered into between the City and Prasa in 2015.

Without a Service Level Agreement, there is no commitment to the quality and level of rail service Prasa would deliver, and the ability to be held accountable to those commitments.

Hill-Lewis stated he has called on Ramaphosa to urgently set up a joint working committee on rail devolution, “given the National Transport Director-General’s public commitment to gazetting a Rail Devolution Strategy within 2023”.

He said this comes after a request for a joint committee sent more than two months ago had met with no response. The City wants to provide input to the strategy and “settle plans to devolve rail in Cape Town”.

Should Ramaphosa not respond by 31 August, Hill-Lewis said the City would initiate intergovernmental dispute mediation proceedings.

“Passenger rail must be the backbone of our network, but it has all but collapsed while Prasa refuses to be held accountable for improving service levels to the public. All spheres of government have a duty to fix this situation without delay.”

The City’s ongoing rail feasibility study, which examines how devolving the current Metrorail system to City management, calculates lower-income households would save up to R932-million per year if there was an efficient passenger rail service in Cape Town. Properly functioning rail would sustain 51,000 jobs and add R11-billion to the local economy per year, according to the study.

“It is vital that Prasa’s service delivery is measurable, with clear, agreed targets for improvement as we work towards our ultimate goal of the devolution of passenger rail to the City,” stated Mayco Member for Urban Mobility, Roberto Quintas.

He said Prasa was initially willing to discuss a service level agreement but had done an “about-turn”.

“Given the sorry state of passenger rail, it seems Prasa’s rationale is that they are not in a position to commit to even basic performance criteria at this stage.”

Quintas said Prasa was instead proposing a Memorandum of Understanding be developed, but this would not be binding, and Prasa had not upheld its commitments contained in an existing Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2015.

Questions sent to Prasa on 10 August related to the reasons for not negotiating a service level agreement with the City of Cape Town, received no response. DM

First published by GroundUp.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The issue is not that tough for the lines that only serve passenger rail. It gets tricky when you look at the parts of the network that are the national freight lines sharing with passenger rail.

    Would it avoid or reduce impact of the taxi strike? Maybe some, but one can be certain “rogue elements” would have stopped passenger rail like it disrupted buses and private vehicles.

    One longterm option is to bring taxi owners into ownership of (electric) buses that carry the large numbers longer distances around peninsula and then leave taxis to serve bus and rail stations to and from commuter actual origins and destinations. People live 10km from rail/bus stations, so that leg anyway needs a solution.

    We can’t build passenger rail to within 2km of 95% of commuters, ever.

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      As far as I am concerned, you are spot on. These freight lines would need attention. Probably (I do not know) they are a separate network.

      This is something that CT and WCP must take over, the present crowd are incapable of running a train service.

    • Bob Kuhn says:

      Inviting the taxi mob to join in supporting the very transport systems they have burnt and destroyed is a fools errand!

      • Johan Buys says:

        Maybe I’m lucky, but out in the winelands, the taxis are far more likely to let traffic flow at congested intersections than the poppies blocking an intersection on their phones with one little darling in the back of the SUV. In a simulator game, 500 taxis will transport 10,000 times as many people through rush hour than 500 poppies. They “get” flow better. Yes yes sometimes one needs to double up in a lane so that the peel-off left yield ahead traffic can get to the peel off. Poppie sits middle of her lane and holds up 20 cars because she is blissfully unaware.

    • Carsten Rasch says:

      Taxis and even buses cannot carry the bulk that is required daily. Only trains can. Taxis should never have been allowed main routes, only routes to and from stations. An integrated system is the only thing that will work, but ANC politics will not allow it. I don’t know how we will ever get control over it in the present dispensation, except by literally seizing it.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Giving commuters a competitive choice of transportation is always a good idea. At the moment taxis are the only real option so gouging and gangsterism is allowed to flourish.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Which is another reason why the ANC – apart from being totally useless at fixing anything – won’t cede control of the trains to Cape Town because the latter DO fix things, and eventually the taxis – some of which are apparently owned by ANC chommies – would lose business. It all comes down to money. Stuff anyone else.

  • andrew farrer says:

    GH-L may as well sign the papers and instruct the lawyers to deliver to the court on 1 sep – we all know limp dick cyril wont do anything, and while he’s busy go the same route with SAPS in Western Cape

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    The cracked windshield of the train says it all doesn’t it.

    As a regular visitor to Germany, I am amazed every time I step onto a train, a form of transport shared daily by the wealthiest and poorest members of that incredible country. The trains run 24 hours a day and are completely safe and reliable. They are cheap to use, safe, fun and clean.

    It simply blows my mind that I can travel around a German city, in rush hour traffic and at incredible speed, for a FRACTION of the cost paid by the poorest of South Africans to edge along our clogged highways at a snails pace and in life-risking mini-busses.

    Our mayor is nothing short of a hero. He deserves all the support we can hive him.

    The ANC are thugs, thieves, fools and an utter waste of oxygen.

    • William Dryden says:

      I totally agree with your comments Matthew, i worked in Germany in 1970 and was amazed at how quickly one can get around town, you had the “U”ban and “O”ban lines ant the express busses. What a pleasure. here we have a Taxi Mafia supported by Ministers who own taxi’s or have and interest in them.

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