Negotiations between the national government and the City of Cape Town, which could see the metro taking over the management of commuter rail services, are continuing, says transport minister Blade Nzimande.

In 2017 Cape Town announced it intended to take over the management of commuter rail to avert the “total collapse” of rail services in the city. Rail is considered the backbone of public transport in Cape Town.

The Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) is responsible for delivering rail services. Its subsidiary, Metrorail, has been under pressure because its rail commuter services have been in a serious state of decline caused by decades of underinvestment, outdated technology, the loss of critical skills, deferred maintenance and corruption.​

Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS
Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS

Responding to a written question in parliament from DA MP Chris Hunsinger, Nzimande said negotiations with the city are continuing.

“At the meeting held at the City Lodge, a request was submitted to the minister in terms of section 11(4) of the National Land Transport Act … to assign two functions, namely operating licensing and contracting authority, to the local authority. Other local authorities have just indicated their intentions, but no negotiations have started thus far,” said Nzimande.

He said the city had been requested to demonstrate that it will be able to fund the functions, on the basis that there is no guaranteed funding from the national department of transport.

“Unfortunately, the revised business plans still contain this observation and the department has again requested the City of Cape Town to review this position as the department does not have resources to support even these revised business plans,” the minister said.

Nzimande pointed out that the National Land Transport Act enables the rail function to be assigned to the most appropriate sphere of government.

“In alignment with the Integrated Urban Development Framework, a directive of the National Development Plan, the department will develop a devolution strategy that would allow the department to consider the viability of devolving the rail function to metropolitan authorities,” said Nzimande.

He said the devolvement strategy for commuter rail would be aligned with the relevant statutory provisions. It is anticipated that the strategy will clearly prescribe the preparatory work metropolitan authorities need to undertake before the rail function could be devolved.

“As part of the rail devolvement strategy, metropolitan authorities should be supported to build a business case based on undertaking a due-diligence exercise to determine the status quo, a clear direction on the role of rail, including the resources required to manage and oversee the function, the service levels, quality and reliability envisaged, how connectivity and integration will be improved and how budgets will be better allocated. The strategy will also investigate specific performance standards and realistic targets to be negotiated between the affected metropolitan authorities and the department, including Prasa,” said Nzimande.

The City of Cape Town has previously stated that under its plan, Metrorail would continue to provide the transport service, while the metro would maintain and operate the infrastructure.