Plans to halt ‘fare hikes’

PHIRI CAWE

A bitter showdown is looming between Metrorail and a public transport advocacy group, which says it will fight any attempt by the commuter rail service to raise fares.

Following unconfirmed reports that Metrorail plans to increase its ticket prices next month, the Public Transport Voice (PTV) has vowed to launch boycotts and protests against it.

Any increase, it said, should be discussed by all, including commuters. The group, expected to start picketing at train stations from Saturday June 4, advocates for quality and equality in the public transport sector.

At a press conference in Khayelitsha on Monday May 9, the PTV demanded the parastatal pull the plug on any plans to hike fares. However, Metrorail spokeswoman Riana Scott said she knew of no plans by Metrorail Western Cape to raise ticket prices.

She said the company had “not yet been given an indication by our principals whether an increase will be levied and if so, when and how much increases are likely to be”.

But PTV aren’t buying it. They say that as the strike by Metrorail workers drags on, commuters continue to struggle to get to work. They blame bad management by Metrorail and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), the state-owned enterprise that runs the commuter rail service. Any increase in fares in the current environment would be outrageous, say the PTV.

Claiming to have inside information, PTV spokesman Dalton Ndongeni said Metrorail planned to hike single-ticket prices by between 50c and R1, depending on the travel zone and class. PTV say according to their source inside Metrorail, there are also plans to increase the monthly-ticket prices, but they don’t know by how much.

“Why is more money not being spent on additional security measures on platforms and in trains? People are not objects to make money. Buying a weekly or a monthly ticket means that people have signed a contract with Metrorail to take them to their destinations.

“We understand there is a dispute between them and the workers but that should not be a commuters’ problem. Metrorail must make alternative transport available for commuters,” he said.

The group plan to call on Transport Minister Dipuo Peters to intervene in the current Metrorail crisis and solve the problems rail commuters face.

Amanda Mkhosana, also from PTV, said commuters were forced to use an inherently unsafe mode of transport. Pregnant women were especially vulnerable, not only to criminals on the trains but also overcrowding and delays.

“Train delays can cause them to miss doctor’s appointments, which can affect the health of the unborn child. Severe overcrowding can increase the chances of miscarriage or other neonatal complications.

“Schoolchildren are also affected by unsafe rail conditions, and there have been incidents of death as a result. The should be a carriage dedicated to only them. Overcrowded and unsupervised trains also make it more likely for schoolgirls to be sexually harassed on their way to or from school. It is the objective of PTV’s safety and security campaign to hold the government and rail industry accountable and eliminate these situations which happen every day,” she said.

In response, Ms Scott said fare increases were initiated “by our corporate office, approved by the Prasa board as well as with the sanction of national Department of Transport”. She said it was an economic necessity to keep the service operating.

“The cost of running trains is affected by increased cost of electricity, human resources, maintenance, safety and security and other things which escalates every year and is beyond Metrorail’s control,” she said.

She said delays were likely to continue until the torched trains, damaged lines and platforms had been repaired.

“Delays of increasingly shorter duration will continue for as long as it takes to repair the extensive damage incurred between Philippi, Nyanga, Esplanade, Woodstock and until platforms 11 and 12 are reinstated. A tender to do the required remedial work on the two platforms is underway and an accurate prognosis of reinstatement will only be available once the tender has been awarded.

“The process to repair, replace, refurbish and rebuild carriages destroyed by fire is similar to a motor vehicle involved in an accident. Prasa’s loss adjusters (and forensic experts) examine the carriages, then submit a report which is considered for pay-out,” she said, noting that “an optimistic scenario” would see the carriages back in service in six to 12 months.

She said Metrorail was making every effort to get the service back on track as soon as was humanly possible. But the culprits were still out there, she warned, and despite the upping of the reward to R100 000 for information leading to a conviction.

The PTV is expected to hold pickets from June 4 at train stations.