Cape Town's commuter train service is abysmal. Our trains are late, dangerous and uncomfortable.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the city rely on Metrorail to get them to and from work safely and on time. But as our articles published today and last week show, the trains are frequently cancelled, extremely late or so overcrowded that people are pushed out of carriages or hang onto the outside of carriages. Today, nearly all GroundUp's journalists arrived late to work because of trains delays. At one station, it took over 30 minutes without trains arriving before an incomprehensible announcement was made, which apparently admitted that the trains were delayed, as if the dozens of commuters standing on the platform had not worked this out already.
Sometimes commuters copy us on their letters of complaint to Metrorail. Here is an extract from one we received this morning:
My train was delayed this morning and I request a refund on my ticket.
Unfortunately I was unable to request this refund from the ticket office that I had purchased the ticket from within 30 minutes of purchase (as noted on your website http://www.capemetrorail.co.za/Customer.htm) as the train was further delayed on route to my destination.
Metrorail advertised that there was a 25-30 minute delay on the train, but this was understated as the train arrived at my destination over one hour later than the advertised time.
And there are numerous other problems with the Metrorail service. This is what needs to be addressed:
When trains are late, replacement busses should immediately be put into service so that inconvenience to customers is minimised.
More trains or carriages need to be introduced to reduce overcrowding.
Train stations need to be clearly marked and visible from every carriage. It is often very difficult for commuters to determine what station the train is at. Part of the problem is that carriage windows --when they exist-- are so badly scarred that they are opaque.
A more flexible ticketing system needs to be introduced. Monthly tickets are aligned to calendar months instead of any 30 day period, resulting in long queues for tickets at month-end, with the consequence that commuters miss their trains. Instead of monthly and weekly tickets there should be 31-day and 7-day passes, purchasable on any day. Less urgent, but very important, is that the entire ticketing and platform access system needs to be revamped and integrated with MyCiti, Golden Arrow and the minibus taxis.
The carriages are covered in grafitti. Metrorail can show its customers that it respects them by cleaning the carriages. Many of the carriages are ancient and need to be replaced.
Security guards seem to be haphazardly situated. Sometimes you will see a dozen security guards on one station and none on the next. Ideally every carriage needs one security guard and every platform needs two.
Trains need to run more frequently and until late at night.
We also need to question whether the division between Metro Plus and Metro needs to be continued. This is to some extent a relic of the apartheid first and third-class carriage system. Sometimes you see largely empty Metro Plus carriages and overflowing Metro ones on the same train. The congestion should be evenly distributed across commuters on a train.
For a long time now, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa has touted plans to revamp Metrorail. But the time for plans is well past; implementation is needed.
The messed up state of our commuter train service does not get nearly enough media attention. Most people who use the trains are workers with limited income and power. If this was an issue that affected the wealthy middle-class more, it is likely there would be much more noise and action. This is why it is particularly important that an organisation like COSATU spearheads a campaign to improve the Metrorail service. It is the trade union umbrella's members who are most affected by the current shoddy service. COSATU appears to be gearing up for action. Let's hope it leads to a better train service.