Commuters wait to board the Gautrain at Rosebank station in Johannesburg. Picture: DANIEL BORN
Commuters wait to board the Gautrain at Rosebank station in Johannesburg. Picture: DANIEL BORN

SA’s competition authority want the government to revise its funding policy for public transport services, saying the Gautrain rapid rail system is heavily subsidised in favour of the middle class.

“The Gautrain is heavily subsidised and operates very differently from Metro Rail from a services and integration point of view,” said Competition Commission commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele.

Bonakele made the remarks on Wednesday as the commission released its preliminary report into its market inquiry into land-based public passenger transport.

The commission is a key statutory body mandated to investigate and evaluate restrictive business practices, abuse of dominant positions and mergers.

It recommended that the Gauteng provincial government take over the control and management of Metro Rail, and integrate it with the Gautrain to pave the way for “a single system that doesn’t separate people according to class”.

The investigation was launched after the commission suspected the current structure of the commuter rail transport system could potentially prevent, distort or restrict competition. The commission said the trains were not meant to compete with each other, and it was inefficient to have two such services on the same route. It said a single system, with regular times, and lower fares was needed.

Bonakele said there were huge inequalities between the Gautrain model and Metro Rail services in Gauteng.

“There is no policy justification in a country like South Africa for the government to subsidise the middle class and decide to have no or lesser subsidies for the working class,” Bonakele said.

Bonakele also said the commission had recommended funding for subsidies for the minibus taxi industry be increased. The Competition Commission’s report revealed that the 40% subsidy the rail sector received from government only benefited wealthier provinces as there was no proper rail network in poor provinces.

The commission’s arguments echo those made by various opponents of the government’s continued support for SAA, who say the airline predominantly serves the middle class and therefore should be sold or closed down.

The Gautrain, which started operating in 2011, was Africa’s first high-speed rail project, promising a highly efficient system and to greatly reduce commuter traffic.