Up to 150 000 commuters most affected are from the south-east, including Langa, Gugulethu, Philippi, Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain, and are dependent on public transport to get to work and other destinations. The knock-on impact was that affected public transport users were forced to board minibus taxis and use the MyCiTi bus service from Kuyasa in Khayelitsha.
This was the third major arson incident on Cape Town’s rail system in under a year and follows the torching of carriages in April and December 2015.
The rail system is buckling under multiple pressure points. Metrorail, which provides Cape Town’s rail service, is owned by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), a state-owned enterprise that falls under national government’s Department of Transport. The agency has been beset by governance and leadership challenges at a national level that are now impacting directly on passengers and the city economy, and delaying the sorely needed renewal of train carriages for the local service. These include the dismissal of the organisation’s chief engineer for falsifying his academic qualifications. Tenders for the acquisition of new coaches are also being investigated.
The governance model for Cape Town’s rail service is coming under scrutiny. A strong argument is emerging for the management and governance of the rail system – or some portion of it - to fall under local government, rather than the national sphere. This would ensure that services were better customised to meet the needs of local users and the local economy.
National government’s recently published Integrated Urban Development Framework recognises that efficient urban economies require reliable public transport. It also says that cities should be empowered through the devolution of some national government powers to local government. “Devolution is based on the premise that local government is the sphere most able to manage and integrate public transport with other infrastructure and services,” the framework notes.
*Since the story appeared in our print edition a limited service is being offered on the central line.