STATEMENT BY THE CITY’S MAYORAL COMMITTEE MEMBER FOR TRANSPORT AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, COUNCILLOR BRETT HERRON
Council this morning, 26 October 2017, approved the Business Plan for the assignment of the urban rail function to the City of Cape Town. The City’s Transport and Urban Development Authority (TDA) will now approach the National Government for the necessary approvals and funding for taking over commuter rail in an incremental and structural manner.
Following Council’s approval this morning, we will commence with our strategy for getting urban rail back on track.
Our Business Plan is the first step in this process which entails a detailed due diligence and planning phase. This phase is to be concluded within the next two to three years, following which we will present an Assignment Implementation Plan and a Rail Master Plan to Council for approval.
I want to state from the outset that taking over the urban rail function will not happen overnight.
We have to do a thorough investigation of all of the risks – in particular as they pertain to funding – and then devise an Implementation Plan to mitigate these risks through an incremental take-over.
Our chief priority is to create a customer-centred urban rail system where rail becomes the norm and the mode of choice for the majority of Capetonians. For this to happen, the commuter must be at the centre of everything we do.
This means we have to restore commuters’ faith in passenger rail by ensuring that:
- the service is punctual, with at least 80% of trains running on time
- we have enough rolling stock to meet the passenger demand
- commuters feel and are safe at our stations and on our trains
- the service is integrated with other modes of public transport so that commuters can easily transfer from a bus to a train to a minibus-taxi
- commuters can use one method of payment – meaning, that we have one payment system that can be used for all public transport services, be it for travelling in a MyCiTi bus, or by train
This is a mammoth task, but the City is determined to rescue urban rail and to restore it to what it has been and should be: the backbone of public transport in Cape Town.
For the City to fix passenger rail we will have to take over all of the assets required to provide the service – from the stations and the land the assets are located on, to the tracks, signalling system, and the existing and new rolling stock to be allocated to Cape Town through the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA) recapitalisation programme.
Furthermore, to improve and enforce service standards relating to punctuality, safety and security, maintenance, and customer service, the City must be the contracting authority. In other words, the City must be granted the authority for drawing up and awarding the operating contracts to those rail operators who will be running the six existing commuter lines, and all future lines.
As the contracting authority, the City will be able to determine the performance standards for service providers. In so doing we will be able to monitor performance, to penalise operators and service providers for non-compliance when standards are not adhered to, or even cancel contracts when there is a breach.
To summarise, as the contracting authority the City will be mandated to hold operators and service providers accountable. Accountability is one of the key requirements for ensuring efficiency – this aspect is currently non-existent as far as passenger rail is concerned.
I want to assure residents and those who are concerned about the financial risks involved in taking over the urban rail function that we will not be taking over any unfunded mandates. National Government will have to allocate all of the relevant subsidies, key among them being the operating subsidy, to the City. All additional funding needed for building up commuter rail from scratch must also come from the national fiscus.
I have stated before that fixing passenger rail in Cape Town is akin to a business rescue. We estimate that we would need hundreds of millions of rands in the short- to medium-term to halt the decline and to build up passenger rail to a fully functional, effective and world-class service.
The City will need more funding at various points during the rescue operation. Thus, our now approved Business Plan proposes that the handover is structured and incremental and not on a single day. A gradual handover will also allow the City to plan ahead, acquire the necessary skills, and develop the additional capacity to ensure the long-term sustainability of passenger rail.
Following on from Council’s approval, we will present the Business Plan to the National Department of Transport (DoT) and motivate our case for taking over passenger rail earlier than anticipated in the DoT’s National Rail Policy (draft White Paper) of June 2017.
Our Business Plan consists of an implementation strategy where we have divided rail into 16 key functional components – key among them being rail service corridor plans; the network ownership; train operating contracts; signalling ownership, maintenance and operations; stations; ticketing and fares; transport enforcement; rolling stock; financial management, and alternative rail.
I stated earlier this month that the TDA will immediately commence with a detailed exploration and investigation into the feasibility of alternative rail solutions such as light rail, sky rail, monorail, and urban cable car. Alternative rail solutions could be implemented as part of the City’s comprehensive integrated transport plan or in areas where they could be more economically viable than other modes of public transport, in particular:
- the Cape Town International Airport Rail Link
- an alternative rail solution along the southern corridor to reduce congestion through increasing the capacity of the rail market share as road-based transport solutions are not viable due to land constraints
- an alternative rail solution for the northern suburbs where commuters’ options for public transport services are currently limited
Our approved Business Plan prioritises the interventions we must immediately undertake to stabilise the service, prevent further decline, improve service delivery, and to create a sustainable, efficient commuter rail service that is integrated with other modes of public transport in Cape Town.
As stated above we will, while the initial interventions are being implemented, devise a comprehensive Rail Master Plan in accordance with international best practice. We will also establish a multidisciplinary working team consisting of City officials and officials from other spheres of government and State-owned enterprises to regularly report on the progress of the assignment and the implementation of the interventions prioritised in the Business Plan.
Granted, it will take several years to get all of the preparatory work in place, but once we have taken over the urban rail function we will be able to pursue a fully integrated transport system for Cape Town.
A fully integrated transport system has a synchronised and integrated timetable applicable to all modes of public transport; integrated route maps; and an integrated ticketing system. The commuter is at the centre of this system where every minute detail is focused on making traveling time shorter, more efficient, less time-consuming and easier with as few transfers as possible. This customer-centric approach is in line with our Organisational Development and Transformation Plan.
Most importantly, an efficient integrated transport system makes commuting cheaper. This is of utmost importance in Cape Town where the lower-income households spend up to 43% of their monthly income on transport. Obviously, the more efficient the transport system, the lower the costs of operating a public transport service – which is to the benefit of the City, our ratepayers, and all who live and work here.