15 November 2018

Mozambique: Metrobus Under Threat in Dispute With CFM

Maputo — The highly successful public transport system in Greater Maputo, known as Metrobus, is under threat because of a dispute between the company that owns Metrobus, Fleetrail, and the public owned port and rail company, CFM, whose lines Metrobus uses.

Metrobus uses second hand rail cars, imported from New Zealand, to operate services from the municipalities of Matola and Boane to central Maputo rail station. From there, a fleet of buses ferries passengers to various parts of the city.

A monthly pass, covering the train and bus services, costs 2,500 meticais (about 42 US dollars), and it can be used as often as the holder likes. Up to four members of the holder's family are eligible for passes at half the price (1,250 meticais).

This is much more expensive than CFM's own train services, or the minibuses (known as "chapas") that provide much of Maputo's passenger transport. But Metrobus has the advantage that its trains and buses almost always leave on time.

A large number of people who used to drive from Matola or Boane into central Maputo are now leaving their cars behind and taking Metrobus instead. The Metrobus trains have become crowded, and nowadays people who board at intermediate stops are lucky if they find an unoccupied seat. Taking private cars off the roads has environmental benefits and reduces fuel consumption.

But Metrobus feels that it has been let down by the government. On 1 November, its managing director, Amade Camal, issued a statement in which he accused the government of reneging on a promise to help subsidise the passengers.

The government had demanded transparency, and Camal said the Metrobus ticketing system identifies whether a passenger is a student, a worker, a pensioner or other categories. Based on this information, the government could decide what percentage of the cost of the tickets for each group it would subsidise.

But there has so far been no government subsidy at all, and the company has found itself paying 80 per cent of the costs. Metrobus has been forced to make cutbacks, laying off some of its staff, and reducing night and weekend services.

Furthermore, Camal claimed, Metrobus does not have sufficient access to the CFM lines, which restricts the number of trains it can run at peak hours. "75 per cent of our useful capacity is not operational", he alleged. Two additional services could be run, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, but the lines needed are blocked by empty CFM goods wagons.

Camal announced that, as from 1 December, metrobus tickets will soar in price. The cost of the monthly passes remains unchanged, but a single ticket for a Metrobus train will cost 38 rather than 29 meticais (a 31 per cent increase). A single ticket for a Metrobus bus rises from 14 to 18 meticais.

CFM has reacted angrily, and has even threatened to ban Metrobus from its lines. A statement from CFM said it was "unethical" of Metrobus to blame an increase in its fares on CFM - although this is, at best, a gross oversimplification of what Camal had said.

CFM also complained that Metrobus is not paying for its use of the CFM lines. Camal retorted that Metrobus could not possibly owe anything, since no fee for access to the CFM lines has yet been fixed.

The contract between CFM and Metrobus was signed on 27 December 2017, with an agreement to negotiate the fees over the ensuing 90 days. It has taken much longer than that, with a succession of proposals and counter-proposals, and Camal says CFM has not yet replied to the latest Metrobus proposal of 2 November.

Camal also dismissed a CFM allegation that Metrobus is not complying with rail safety norms. On the contrary, he said, Metrobus is fully committed to safety, but traffic management and security are the responsibility of the owner of the lines, which is CFM.

CFM has also argued that the best solution is for Metrobus to build its own rail lines - although, given the constraints of the available space, this seems wildly impractical.

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