Johannesburg — On a chilly winter's morning on Thursday President Jacob Zuma traded his luxury motorcade for a Metro Rail train to get first-hand experience of Gauteng's public transport system.
The journey started as early as 7am at Pretoria's Bosman Station, where the President bought his own train ticket - with ordinary commuters standing in amazement.
Ministers, such as Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, the new Deputy Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane and Gauteng MEC for Transport Ismail Vadi were some of the officials who joined the President on his tour dubbed the "The President's Monitoring Visit 2012".
According to Zuma's office, the tour was an opportunity for him to assess public transport in Gauteng during rush hour.
Zuma and his team boarded the Metro Rail train from Pretoria to Rhodesfield Station where he took the Gautrain to Park Station in Johannesburg.
There was a mad rush as commuters whipped out their cell phones to film the President.
They used the opportunity to share their frustrations with the President, including safety, unreliable services, high prices and ailing infrastructure. Some complained that due to the unreliability of the public transport, they had received numerous warnings for late coming at work.
According to the Gauteng City Region Observatory's latest research 42% of commuters travel to work by taxis, while another 42% use private cars. About 6% of people walk to work, 10% use busses and trains, whereas 72% of households live within a 10 minutes' walk of public transport.
The President arrived at park Station just after 9:30am to a visibly excited crowd. Commenting about his experience the President said the Metro Rail delays were affecting the economy, while he gave the Gautrain the thumbs up.
Gordhan, who admitted to using the Gautrain a few times, said the improvements in the country's public transport systems, particularly rail, remained crucial to South Africa's economy.
He said the rail system had reached the end of its design life and could no longer meet the expectations and economic demands effectively. The minister said with the new bidding process out, government was working around the clock to address this issue.
In his Budget Speech earlier this year, Gordhan announced an additional R4 billion allocation to Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) for the acquisition of new rolling stock and R1 billion for the construction of new train depots and signalling infrastructure.
The allocations signal the start of the roll-out allocation of the R123 billion for new rolling stock acquisition, and R14.5 billion for new rail signalling. The New Rolling Stock Programme is set to continue for the next 20 years.
The delegation then conducted a walkabout of Park Station and the Wanderers Taxi Rank where they were welcomed in song and dance by the commuters.
Pushing through the crowd, the delegation then proceeded to board a Rea Vaya bus to Dlamini, Soweto where the President is expected to attend a community meeting and to hear the concerns of residents.