Maddened by ‘Metrofail’

Opinion: Danielle van Wyk

Metrorail commuters are in for a tough time. Not only will their finances be stretched because of recent food and fuel price hikes, they will soon be expected to pay more money for their train tickets, as of 1 July.

Being a Metrorail, or as it has notoriously been dubbed, ‘Metrofail’, commuter for what is soon to be four years, I feel that Metrorail regularly disappoints and comes up with disappointing excuses.

From the infamous ‘cable theft’ occurrences, ‘defective signal’ announcements and the ever vague ‘late announcements.’  – Metrorail commuters know, there comes a time where even they give up on allocating a time of delay, and you’re left with “Good morning Metrorail customers, trains on the Northern line are running late”. So you begin awkwardly constructing a text in which you alert your boss about your being late by ‘15 minutes’, and from the moment you hit send, you pray that Metrorail doesn’t then result in you being late and a ‘liar’.

In recent months though, as if the public service wasn’t already on a back foot, we have experienced a surge of violent protest resulting in the loss of many trains due to arson. This as a result of both internal and commuter protest has resulted in around R70m in losses for Metrorail and ‘42 carriages, equalling about four full train sets’ being out of commission, according to News24.

While frustration is understandable, this has further perpetuated the general inefficiency and angered those commuters who now have to bear the brunt of fewer trains in service and the associated challenges. If it’s not the worry of getting to work on time, it’s the anxiety of getting home safely, especially in these winter months where a mere 15 minute delay could see you travelling and arriving home in the dark.

Not only does Metrorail have to address its tardiness but it also needs to improve the experience for passengers. The state of some of the train carriages are appalling: ripped out seat upholstery the odd broken window and the fresh scrawling of offensive phrases marking both the seat and carriage walls, is a common ‘finding’.

Yet, come the end of the month my experience is usually lengthy queues. For many a monthly ticket amounts to anywhere between R250 – R 450, and even this is a financial stretch. But that’s not the only cost that commuters have to bear. When trains are cancelled or delayed, commuters are forced to fork out money in using other modes of transport and in turn they’re left in a financial bind.

Despite all of the above, 1 July will see commuters digging a little deeper for long waits in the cold, vandalised carriages and Metrorail’s tardiness.

As expected, opposition in the form of the Public Transport Voice has taken to picketing outside the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (Prasa) offices in Cape Town, and are driving an already 10 000 commuter signed petition opposing the move, reported EWN recently.

While this is not the answer, some believe that protest is the only way in which the decision makers who could turn things around will listen.

How many unhappy commuters, burnt carriages, and criminal incidents, do we have to go through before we see our money working for and not against us?

Why to this date has Metrorail not made it possible to buy tickets online? We have so much innovation in South Africa – surely if the South African Revenue Service can accept tax returns online, Metrorail can give its commuters the ability to purchase tickets in the same fashion?

*The current fares for a MetroPlus commuter travelling from Bellville to Cape Town station (and back) is R90 and R280 for a weekly and monthly, respectively. Metrorail has not released the new fare structure as per the annual increase from 1 July 2016.