Metrorail costs Cape businesses millions - survey

Metrorail train. (Netwerk24)
Metrorail train. (Netwerk24)

Cape Town – Disruptions in Metrorail's services cost Western Cape businesses millions in lost production hours, while employees travelling by train suffer assault and theft on daily basis, a survey has found. 

In a three-day survey conducted with 295 respondents, the Cape Chamber of Commerce found that 86.27% of businesses believed Metrorail’s operations threatened the sustainability of their operations. 

“We knew the situation was bad but the survey reveals it is even worse than we thought,” the chamber’s president Janine Myburgh said in a statement on Friday.  

“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.”

Respondents, who answered the survey anonymously, said they have suffered profit declines, operate at 50% capacity and even joblessness due to the rail service. 

“How can we run a factory without people,” one frustrated respondent asked. 

In August, News24 reported that Metrorail in the Western Cape is operating with 60% of its fleet, with punctuality dropping by more than 20% and cancellations increasing. 

The company blamed increased vandalism, up to 101 the past three months at a replacement value of R312m, for the deterioration of its services. 

READ: Vandals, thieves causing train overcrowding and delays 

"On-board vandalism has soared, with 60 to 70 carriages per month ending up back in workshops, having been stripped of copper wiring," spokesperson Riana Scott told News24 at the time. 

A draft Integrated Transport Plan released by the City of Cape Town in July revealed that Metrorail passengers in the city have dropped by roughly 50% from 675 607 passengers in 2000 to an estimated 360 000 passengers in 2017. 

City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for Transport and Urban Development Brett Herron told News24 the city’s reliance on Metrorail continued to be unparalleled in the country with the biggest portion of public transport users relying on rail to commute daily.

“This is a pattern we need to encourage and protect. We cannot have our commuters deserting the rail service and moving to road-based transport – in particular private cars – since this would be a massive set-back for our already congested roads and our city’s long-term sustainability,” he said.

READ: No quick fix for Cape Town's trains, commuters told 

“The impact on our poorest residents should our rail service continue to be destroyed would be catastrophic.”

Both the province and the City of Cape Town previously called on the National Department of Transport to allow the city to operate Metrorail. 

On Monday, Western Cape premier Helen Zille said she intends to adopt provincial legislation that will hold the national government accountable for a “gross dereliction of duty.”

Her spokesperson Michael Mpofu told News24 that the legislation would service and safety standards for rail services in the province. 

He said the proposed legislation is the next step following months of engagement with the national government. 

“We have pursued every available channel to engage the national government on their trains mandate. However, the situation has worsened significantly in the last 18 months,” he said. 

On Friday, Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi slammed Zille’s proposed legislation, calling it a political stunt to undermine the “enormous efforts” by the ruling ANC government. 

READ: Commuters rebel as Metrorail fails 

He said the department has made strides to restore the country’s 50-year-old rail services, with the first of 600 train sets to be rolled out over the next 20 years. 

Metrorail referred all enquiries to Prasa. Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani said the agency is mandated to operate and oversee the investment and upgrade of passenger rail and cannot comment on legislation.

In a statement, Maswanganyi said the department's spending on Metrorail is expected to subsidise more than 484 million passenger trips per year going forward. 

“Our immediate and urgent task is to stabilise and provide a predictable Metrorail service within current capacity, measured by increased ridership, customer satisfaction and efficiency,” he said. 

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