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Transport department keeps rail devolution in limbo – City of Cape Town

By Larry Claasen

THE City of Cape Town says the National Department of Transport’s lack of urgency when it comes to developing the National Rail Devolution Strategy (NRDS) is hampering its plans for talking over the rail system in the mother city.

The city says its ongoing rail feasibility study has found that efficient passenger rail will add R11-billion to the local economy each year, and save lower income families hundreds of millions in transport costs. 

To facilitate these savings, it wants to take over the running of the rail system from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa is a South African (PRASA).

Rob Quintas, the city’s mayoral committee member for urban mobility argues that it is better suited to running the system, which has reduced the number of trains it runs in the metro.

“There is no doubt that we can operate an efficient, reliable, safe and affordable passenger rail service. However, it will take time to restore the damage done by years of neglect and under expenditure by PRASA. There are very competent and efficient employees at PRASA who, unfortunately, have been unable to execute their mandate due to failures of the national government.”

For the city to take over, it needs the NRDS to be released. Without it, it will have no understanding of the responsibility of the institutional relationship between the different parties. 

It also has no idea of what the sequence of events that needs to happen before the city can take control of the rail service.

Without the NRDS the city cannot budget for take over and running of the rail service.

Key to integrated transport

Running the rail services is seen as a key objective when it comes to running an integrated transport system.

“The city is the planning authority in terms of all transport matters. It only makes sense to devolve this function to the authority that is best placed to see how/where passenger rail should fit in with other modes to create an integrated, responsive, accessible, well-functioning, reliable and safe public transport network,” says Quintas.

“This inter-connectivity with other modes such as buses, e-hailing services, minibus-taxis, and non-motorised transport is crucial to ensure the one complements the other, and that commuters can easily transfer from one mode to the next. Ultimately, we need to reduce the cost of commuting – be it in money spent on travelling, or the time it takes to get from A to B. Also, the impact of carbon emissions on our natural environment by road based transport is a huge concern.”

Silence on the part of the state

Even though the city has threatened to declare an intergovernmental dispute with the National Department of Transport over the matter, it has yet to engage with the city, since it provided input into the NRDS in November 2023. 

The cabinet’s own National Rail Policy White Paper 2022 first promised the delivery of a Devolution Strategy by 2023.

Although President Cyril Ramaphosa said on 5 September 2023 that the NRDS will be delivered in 2024, Quintas points out that with the national elections happening on 29 May 2024, will likely delay the release of the strategy.

The National Department of Transport did not respond to questions from CBN on what is behind the delay of the NRDS and when it planned to release it.

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