POLITICS

Prasa's Passengers Feel Unsafe And Are Forced To Use Other Transport

"At 19:30 a dark train arrives, we couldn't see anything inside and had to risk robbers to get home."

29/11/2016 07:28 SAST | Updated 29/11/2016 07:51 SAST
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A leaked internal report states Prasa is in a "devastating financial position", largely caused by inefficiencies, poor service delivery and declining passenger numbers.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) might be an organisation in dire straits, but millions of commuters that rely on train services are suffering under incompetence and poor service.

According to an internal leaked document, Prasa acknowledges that "millions of passengers" are bearing the brunt of poor service, even worse reliability and the terrible state of trains. These factors have combined to put the parastatal in a "devastating financial position" with a shortfall in fares of R800-million.

South Africans are simply using other transport.

The report recounts the experiences of some commuters and their struggles to get to work and school on time.

Benjie, a Metrorail commuter, writes about an experience one day after work where he and other passengers had to wait for more than two hours in the pouring rain: "At 19:30 a dark train arrives, we couldn't see anything inside and had to risk robbers to get home."

"At 19:30 a dark train arrives, we couldn't see anything inside and had to risk robbers to get home."Benjie, a Metrorail commuter

His experience was repeated the next day when he was 45 minutes late for work and contracted flu. In a second email, Benjie talks about the trauma when he saw the body of a commuter laying on the tracks while he was on a train.

Another commuter, Earl, writes an email to Dipuo Peters, minister of transport, in which he says he knows at least three students who were unable to write exams "thanks to Metrorail."

"My humble plea is that your department ... request a detailed report of this morning's mess. Further that you instruct Metrorail's Western Cape managers to take different peak trains for a month to apologise to commuters for the mess ..." Earl writes.

Commuters suffering from incorrect announcements, trains changed from all-station-stops to express and having no staff available contributes to a bad experience, Earl writes.
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According to the internal turnaround report, distributed at Prasa last week and leaked to The Huffington Post, the parastatal has already incurred a loss of R1 billion halfway through the 2016/2017 financial year and expects this to grow to around R2,3 billion by the end of the year.

Prasa has already incurred a loss of R1 billion halfway through the 2016/'17 financial year and expects this to grow to around R2,3 billion by the end of the year.

"Metrorail is the major contributor of this decline in revenue as [a] result of passengers leaving for more reliable modes of transport. This is mainly due to poor service performance in train availability [capacity] and on-time train performance [reliability] impacted by the status of rolling stock and infrastructure. The open system as well as employee non-performance on access controls contribute to fare evasion and fraud," the report says.

Prasa also says it cannot increase fares because of the precarious socio-economic position of those commuters that depend on Metrorail for transport.

Prasa also says it cannot increase fares because of the precarious socio-economic position of those commuters that depend on Metrorail for transport.

The report gives a frank assessment of the organisation's position and warns that if the "critical situation" is not attended to "it will result in the collapse of Prasa". The indicators identified in the report say:

  • Train availability is down by almost 7 percent;
  • By the end of the 2015/2016 financial year 19,000 more trains have been canceled than seven years before, with a reduced capacity of more than 28 million passengers;
  • Train punctuality is down by 10 percent;
  • Customer satisfaction has declined to 57 percent;
  • Paying passenger numbers are falling and will worsen in the latest financial year as a result of poor service delivery;
  • Journey times are increasing, contributing to commuter unhappiness.

Prasa admits commuters are their most important stakeholders and that they bear the brunt of Metrorail's inefficiencies by being late for work, missing school and exams, in some cases being dismissed from work for coming late and by some employers deciding not to employ Metrorail commuters.