Rail system in jeopardy as PRASA fails to pay to protect rail commuters in Cape Town

STATEMENT BY THE CITY’S MAYORAL COMMITTEE MEMBER FOR TRANSPORT AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, COUNCILLOR BRETT HERRON

I want to express my sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of the man who was killed during a horrific attack on commuters who were travelling on the train between Lynedoch and Eerste River on Friday evening, 7 September 2018.

Eight other commuters were also robbed of the very little belongings they had on them, and thrown off the train. One commuter was found with a broken knife blade embedded in his head.

I am wishing them a speedy recovery, and I am also calling on the South African Police Service to investigate this incident as a matter of priority.

I am shocked beyond words by the horrific details of this latest attack. Cape Town’s rail commuters, who are among the most vulnerable in our society, are facing an onslaught of violence on a daily basis.

This latest incident has prompted me to publicly express my exasperation with the fact that to date, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) has failed to pay their part of the funding that is needed for the special Rail Enforcement Unit that the City is currently training. PRASA is placing the very service they need in jeopardy.

In May 2018 PRASA signed a Memorandum of Agreement and committed to co-fund this special unit together with the City and the Western Cape Provincial Government.

The City and the Provincial Government have stepped up to the plate and offered unprecedented assistance to Metrorail commuters. We have done so because our commuters are our residents and they are required to commute under unacceptable, dehumanising and unsafe conditions.

Despite PRASA’s obligation, as confirmed by the Constitutional Court, to ensure a safe public transport service and all of our efforts to assist them to honour their obligation, we are still awaiting PRASA’s contribution of R16 million. We have sent several urgent reminders to the PRASA executive to fulfil their duties and to honour their commitment.

Given that we are R16 million short the City had to cut down on the number of recruits for this enforcement unit who will be focusing on the safety and security of Metrorail commuters and infrastructure. As local government we are already going beyond our mandate to contribute and fund a solution that is the sole responsibility of National Government.

The cost to establish and operate the unit for a period of 12 months is approximately R47,9 million.

I have said many times before that our urban rail service is on the verge of total collapse.

I have been meeting with PRASA’s leadership for the past six years, and we signed our first collaboration agreement in October 2012 already. Tragically, we have seen few, if any, of these commitments coming to fruition as PRASA has a habit of failing to keep to agreements.

Relentless attacks on commuters and the sabotage of our rail infrastructure has become a weekly occurrence. Commuters are losing their lives and their hard-earned daily wages and belongings, and some have even lost their jobs because of PRASA’s failure to fulfil their constitutional mandate to run a rail service that is safe, punctual, and reliable.

On 26 July 2018 I accompanied the National Minister of Transport, Mr. Blade Nzimande, on his visit to PRASA’s depot in Paarden Island to view the damage to the rail infrastructure. He was fully briefed on the extent of the sabotage and safety risks, and committed to convene meetings with stakeholders to improve and modernise the service in Cape Town.

Rail commuters cannot wait a day longer for the minister to deliver on his promise.

Last night I have sent a letter to Mr. Nzimande, calling on his urgent intervention to ensure that PRASA pays the R16 million that is needed to fund a fully operational Rail Enforcement Unit.

I also requested the minister to declare a state of emergency or disaster in so far as the rail service in Cape Town is concerned. I did this so that the National Government can deploy additional resources to investigate, arrest and prosecute those responsible for the ongoing attacks and sabotage and to assist us to turn this service around and prevent it from total collapse.

Urban rail is the backbone of public transport in Cape Town. Thousands of commuters are relying on the service to get to work. The majority of these commuters are from low-income households and cannot afford other modes of public transport.

PRASA is failing them dismally and their failure to honour their constitutional obligations, and their agreement with the City and Province, is reckless and careless.

Source: City of Cape Town