Overcrowded train commuters 'soft targets'

2015-06-26 12:54
Metrorail train. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Metrorail train. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - An overcrowded train carriage has become as much of a target for crime as an empty one, a commuter representative group claims.

Security guards and police are unable to patrol packed coaches during peak periods, the group says.

Mark Klassens, the regional co-ordinator for the United Commuter Voice, which represents passenger concerns to Metrorail, said congested carriages are more than just an inconvenience for passengers.

“When a carriage is so full that people have to hang outside open train doors, there isn’t space for a policeman or security guard to get in, never mind patrol.

“This gives thieves and pickpockets the opportunity to take their chance.”

Provincial commander of the police’s Rapid Rail Unit Colonel Jorina Zandberg, who visited Cape Town station on Friday morning for a campaign to address crime within the rail environment, said it was essential for victims of rail-related crime to report incidents so that resources can be assigned accordingly.

“We are a force multiplier of the local police and deploy according to the crime pattern of cases reported,” she explained.

Easy targets

Zandberg said robberies committed on trains and stations are concerning.

Commuter Enslin Joubert, 24, told News24 she was recently held at knifepoint in an overcrowded train while travelling from Cape Town station to Elsies River.

“I always keep my phone inside my handbag - I know better than to play around with it with so many suspicious looking people around me,” she said.

“I stood at the seats nearest to the doors and as we were approaching Woltemade station I felt something sharp in my back.

“A man then whispered in my ear that I should open my handbag slowly and if I made a sound, he would stab me in my back with his knife.”

Without turning around, she did as she was instructed.

“He scratched inside, stuffed some things into his pocket and forced his way out as soon as the doors opened.

“I screamed at the men hanging out of the train doors that the rubbish stole my stuff, but by that time he was running through the nearby graveyard already.”

The thief escaped with her cellphone, a purse containing her wages, a handful of sweets and a packet of cigarettes.

 “I was so upset. But I didn’t report it because when I got off at my stop, there wasn’t a security guard or cop in sight. And what were the chances I would get any of my stuff back in any case?”

Off peak times ‘critical’

However, Klassens said that off peak commuters were still the easiest target for opportunistic crooks.

“This is a critical time when we need the police and security services on patrol. The passengers are soft targets. Visibility is imperative - go from carriage to carriage.  They serve no purpose if they are sitting in the carriage and enjoying the trip.”

Zandberg said it was essential for incident to be reported as this is used to decipher crime patterns.

“We are focusing on high visibility in the mornings and afternoons on platforms so that commuters can immediately report criminal activity or if they spot any suspects.”

Zandberg also advised commuters to remember basic safety precautions while travelling.

“Also, travel in groups and choose coaches where there are other commuters with whom you feel comfortable,” she said.

Read more on:    metrorail  |  cape town  |  crime  |  transport

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