UDF at wits’ end with Metrorail

UDF veterans have called on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to cease PRASA assets

Sharone Daniels leaves home at 6am to catch a taxi from Ocean View to Fish Hoek train station.

She travels 40km to her work in Shortmarket Street in the city centre.

On Monday, she said that the train was more than an hour late and she only got to work after 9am. This, she says, wasn’t even bad for Metrorail.

Ms Daniels is one of thousands of commuters affected by train delays on a daily basis.

This is one of the reasons the United Democratic Front (UDF) and Unite Behind are calling on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to seize the assets of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (PRASA).

“We waited for more than an hour at the station on Monday. That wasn’t even bad,” said Ms Daniels. “If the trains aren’t running I have to take three taxis at R30 each. On top of that I have already bought a monthly pass for Metrorail”.

She said she fully supported the UDF’s call.

Ms Daniels is also bothered by the poor condition of the trains.

“The windows don’t even open on some trains and some of the doors don’t have handles. What if there was an emergency?”

She says the trains are also overloaded. “There is no space, the trains only start clearing out when you get to Salt River.”

Last month, the UDF picketed outside the provincial NPA office in Cape Town. There were chants of “fix our trains” and “down with corruption”.

In a press statement, the UDF said they had sent Shaun Abrahams, the National Director of Public Prosecutions, a letter of demands along with a petition, calling on the NPA to institute criminal charges against individuals implicated in corruption within the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), in particular Prasa.

“The corruption in Prasa has directly contributed to the breakdown of safe and reliable rail services which is severely impacting on the daily lives of commuters – mainly the poor and working class. The veterans are telling Abrahams that they are expecting to hear from him on when prosecutions will take place rather than whether they will take place.”

Activist and Unite Behind member, Zackie Achmat, said the mismanagement affected poor people the most. “Over the last 20 years Metrorail has gone from bad to worse.”

He said one of the main causes of the mismanagement is corruption in government.

Mr Achmat said it was for this reason that they are calling on the NPA to seize the assets.

“It is to make sure commuters are safe and have alternative transport when the trains are not available. We know it can’t be fixed in a day but it is critical that we have honest people leading Prasa.”

He said that the corruption badly affected working class people who spend up to 40 percent of their salaries on public transport.

“The impact on this stuff is enormous. State capture literally kills. The money that should be spent on keeping commuters safe and having better trains has gone into the pockets of leaders. That’s why we are here and we are going to win.”

Spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila accepted the letter on behalf of the NPA in the Western Cape and said he would send it to the head office in Pretoria.

The Atlantic Sun, sent an inquiry to the head office of the NPA about the letter, but had not received a response by the time this edition went to print.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday October 10, the City of Cape Town proposed a take-over of passenger rail to ensure long-term stability.

Brett Herron, Mayco member for transport and urban development, said: “The consequences of a complete breakdown would be catastrophic for the city, for residents, and commuters who are already subjected to constant peak-hour grid-lock on the congested road network. This comes at a great cost in terms of the time spent on travelling, household expenditure on transport, environmental degradation due to carbon emissions, and the subsequent impact on our productivity and Cape Town’s economy.”

He said a sense of urgency was required, as is a plan of action.

“Should council give us the go-ahead, we will present a business plan to the Department of Transport in which we will propose to take over passenger rail in a structured and incremental manner. The take-over must happen gradually so that the City can plan ahead, acquire the necessary skills, and develop the additional capacity to ensure the long-term sustainability of passenger rail.”