Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to urgently create a joint working committee on rail devolution, failing which, the City will initiate intergovernmental dispute mediation proceedings. The lack of a functional passenger rail system was severely felt in Cape Town during the recent violent minibus-taxi stayaway, with thousands of commuters forced to walk as far as 30km to get home due to the strike called in the middle of a working day, a practice SANTACO has agreed to never again repeat.
‘We have urged the President to respond by 31 August to our request for a joint working committee on passenger rail devolution, failing which, we will resort to intergovernmental dispute mediation.
‘The minibus-taxi stayaway has once again demonstrated the urgent need for a safe, affordable passenger rail system, especially for lower-income communities. Passenger rail must be the backbone of our network, but it has all but collapsed while Prasa refuses to be held accountable for improving service levels to the public. All spheres of government have a duty to fix this situation without delay.
‘A joint working committee on devolution is especially important, given the National Transport Director-General’s public commitment to gazetting a Rail Devolution Strategy within 2023. The City wants to provide input to this national strategy and settle plans to devolve rail in Cape Town. Unfortunately, our request for a joint committee has been gathering dust on the President’s desk for more than two months now, which is not a situation we are prepared to tolerate,’ said Mayor Hill-Lewis.
The City’s ongoing Rail Feasibility Study, which aims to chart the way to devolution, has so far found that lower income households will save up to R932 million per year with an efficient passenger rail service in Cape Town. The research also shows 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. Up until the latest devolution progress confirmation by the Transport DG, Cabinet’s White Paper commitments have been contradicted by various senior political figures, including the current and former Transport Ministers.
Mayor Hill-Lewis said the City is keenly awaiting a devolution commitment directly from the President, given the dire need for a functional rail system in Cape Town.
PRASA refuses to be held accountable for passenger rail service targets
Meanwhile, the City announced earlier in August that it will follow Intergovernmental Dispute Resolution processes after the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) refused to sign a Service Level Agreement (SLA) on rail services for Cape Town commuters.
At the time, Mayor Hill-Lewis said PRASA is letting commuters down by refusing to make a commitment to the City about the quality and level of passenger rail services they will deliver, and to be held accountable to those commitments.
A formal Service Level Agreement is a legal requirement under section 11(1)(c) of the National Land Transport Act, and the City has repeatedly requested PRASA to comply with its obligation to conclude this agreement with us. But PRASA has informed the City – in late July – that they will not sign and commit to a binding service level agreement at this stage given the current state of rail services.
Councillor Rob Quintas, Mayoral Committee Member for Urban Mobility, said City officials have held extensive engagements with PRASA.
‘It is vital that PRASA’s service delivery is measurable, with clear, agreed targets for improvement as we work towards our ultimate goal of the devolution of passenger rail to the City. We are disappointed about PRASA’s about-turn after their initial willingness to discuss a service level agreement. Given the sorry state of passenger rail, it seems PRASA’s rationale is that they are not in a position to commit to even basic performance criteria at this stage.
‘Instead, PRASA is proposing a non-consequential Memorandum of Understanding be developed, which would not legally bind them to specified service levels. This is not acceptable, as the standing Memorandum signed in 2015 has not had the desired accountability effect on PRASA and the National Government,’ said Cllr Quintas.