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Cape Town preparing to launch Passenger Rail dispute on devolution, service standards

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis says the City is briefing lawyers to launch an intergovernmental dispute on passenger rail devolution and service standards. The Mayor said the City has been unable to secure a joint devolution working committee with national government. These actions are in direct contradiction to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s claims during questions in Parliament on 5 September that broad consultations have been held on national government’s forthcoming Rail Devolution Strategy.

‘We have been unable to secure a working committee on devolution despite President Ramaphosa previously committing to respond to our requests. We have made this simple request to both previous and current Transport Ministers, and most recently to the President on 16 June, but to no avail.

‘In Parliament, the President says ‘viva la cooperation’, but our experience has been the exact opposite. We are in fact taken aback by the President’s claims of broad consultations taking place towards a national Devolution Strategy. As a leading city preparing to take over passenger rail, we are completely in the dark about these alleged consultations with a broad range of stakeholders, including transport authorities, of which we are one.

‘Prasa has further refused to sign a Service Level Agreement on targets to improve rail services, which will lay the foundation for devolution and is a legal requirement under the National Land Transport Act. Without these critical measures, we fear that devolving passenger rail is still many years away, which is unacceptable to us and the million commuters we are fighting for.

‘To us, it is unclear when actual passenger rail devolution would begin along national government’s preferred timeframes, with the President stating government had medium-term plans towards 2030, and long-term plans stretching to 2050. But in Cape Town, we need devolution and working trains as soon as possible, given that the collapsed passenger rail system only transports around 2% of commuters in Cape Town today. Our research also shows lower income families in our city would save R932 million a year with working, efficient trains.

‘For these reasons, we are now briefing our lawyers to launch an intergovernmental dispute mediation process. Under section 42 of the Intergovernmental Framework Relations Act, a mediation committee will need to be “promptly” convened to set the terms of the dispute,’ said Mayor Hill-Lewis.

The City’s ongoing Rail Feasibility Study, which aims to chart the way to devolution, has so far found that functional rail will sustain over 51 000 jobs and add R11 billion to the local economy each year.

In May 2022, Cabinet passed the White Paper on National Rail Policy, which commits to devolving rail to capable metros, and to producing a Rail Devolution Strategy in 2023.

‘While the Transport Director-General recently confirmed an intention to gazette the Devolution Strategy within 2023, the President yesterday stated this would instead be “by 2024”. The President further confirmed that devolution would entail “provision for assignment of responsibility for managing of all rail functions to metro, in planning, funding, procurements, operations and maintenance of these lines”’.

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