Cape Town says its bid to take rail management from Prasa just got a big boost

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 The railway system in South Africa is a national government competency.
The railway system in South Africa is a national government competency.
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  • Cape Town's municipality wants to take over management of its rail service from national government amid ongoing service delivery hassles.
  • In June 2019, Prasa operated 444 train trips on an average weekday in Cape Town, but this year this has dropped to no more than 153.
  • Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis says Treasury has now given support for a feasibility study on the municipality managing the rail service instead.

City of Cape Town has kicked off the first step in its quest to take over the management of the rail network in the metro from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) - a feasibility study, a move mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis says Treasury has given the green light.

Hill-Lewis described the rail service in Cape Town as reaching a crisis point, with just 33 operational train sets in 2020 compared to 95 trains sets in 1995.

In February, Prasa reported to the Western Cape Provincial Parliament that in June 2019, it was operating 444 train trips on a typical weekday in Cape Town. Early in 2020 - just before the Covid-19 pandemic started - this had dropped to 270 daily trips.

This year, there are no more than 153 train trips across the city on a typical weekday.

Hill-Lewis said in a council speech on Thursday that a letter from Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana on behalf of National Treasury this week indicated support for a feasibility study on the matter. A tender has been issued by the City, he said.  

"The railway system in South Africa is a national government competency and the metro railway system in Cape Town has fallen into decay and has not been functioning optimally for many years.

"This has put tremendous strain on Capetonians since residents in Cape Town are desperately reliant on the metro rail network [as an alternative transport] for commuting to and from work," DA Interim Provincial Leader Tertuis Simmers said in reaction to the announcement by Hill-Lewis.

Hill-Lewis says the Constitution supports the City's attempt as it states "a municipality must be assigned a function when there is agreement between the national and local governments; and where there is adequate capacity at the municipal level to perform the function". 

"If a local or regional government is able to carry out functions that the national government is failing to fulfil, then those functions should be devolved to that local or regional authority. This is what I call ‘functional federalism’," said Hill-Lewis.

Treasury was approached for comment. Should feedback be received, this article will be updated. 

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