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Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

The DA-led Western Cape government has been pushing hard for the devolution of passenger rail services to our government for a number of years, and we will continue fighting until this invaluable service is revitalised and redesigned for a thriving, successful and growing province under the management of competent provincial and local governments.

Safe, affordable and reliable public transport is critical for the success of a thriving economy and dignified society, and in the Western Cape passenger and freight rail must be the backbone of that system. I have a vision for this province where we think about mobility as an integrated ecosystem that not only serves more of our residents but becomes a business opportunity for more entrepreneurs — the more people use public transport, the more economic opportunities in this ecosystem.

This is one of the many reasons we took the exciting and at times nerve-wrecking decision to establish the mobility department in the provincial government. It was officially established in April last year and I am already seeing positive change in the way in which we are thinking differently and innovatively about public transport. A key requirement of our new department’s agenda is to fix rail.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s assurances that a devolution strategy for rail will be completed by 2024, as outlined in the White Paper on National Rail Policy, will not be met. But we will continue our fight for services for our residents by pioneering ground-breaking legislation such as the Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill, because we know that for many of our citizens, particularly the poor, a safe, reliable public transport system is essential.

The Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill seeks to devolve the management, funding and resourcing of services such as rail to the provincial government to allow us to replicate and enable the successes of transport initiatives such as MyCiTi and Go George, which are working towards creating safe integrated public transport for our commuters.

Agricultural products

The rail system is also a critical enabler for the economy — rail has the capacity to move significantly more goods than the many trucks clogging up our roads. The Western Cape exports more than 50% of SA’s agricultural products, and much of that is on our roads because of the failure of the freight rail system. A functioning rail system would not only provide dignified public transport but also help jump-start the struggling national economy.

The Western Cape and municipalities such as the City of Cape Town have a proven track record when it comes to efficient public transport mechanisms that benefit residents. Cape Town’s MyCiTi buses are improving the lives of commuters with an average of more than 18-million passenger trips recorded between July 2022 and June 2023 in the areas it serves. The city is investing R5.2bn over three years in the development and expansion of this rapid transport system alone.

Dial-a-Ride, supported by the Western Cape government, is a dedicated transport system for commuters that are unable to use other forms of public transport in Cape Town due to their disabilities. To show our commitment to piloting and innovating public transport solutions, we recently launched the Getting You to Work initiative. This project gives job seekers who have interviews with registered Cape Town businesses free bus trips. This is a perfect example of how the DA-led Western Cape Government has partnered with the private sector and Golden Arrow Bus Services to benefit jobseekers, because we know a lack of reliable public transport is a major hindrance to finding employment.

Public transport

And because we know that our residents want to be safe on public transport, we have partnered with the City of Cape Town to strengthen the work of the Public Transport Facilities Safety Team, which deploys law enforcement officers at public transport facilities across Cape Town to curb criminal activities. We are working even harder outside the metro: more than 70% of George households make use of the Go George bus service, which is the first non-metro integrated public transport network in SA. More than 4-million passenger trips are made annually using the service. And because we know safe roads are critical to public transport, in the 2022/23 financial year we created 3,195 jobs when the Western Cape government regravelled 96km of roads, upgraded 10km of gravelled roads to surfaced roads, rehabilitated 247,658m² of surfaced roads, and resealed 2,514,352m² of surfaced roads.

But we know if we are to really make a difference and unlock public transport fully we have to invest in rail as the spine of our public transport network, and that is why we are fighting for a greater say in public transport in this province. Last year the City of Cape Town’s preliminary financial analysis and impact assessment report revealed that a functioning rail service could sustain 51,493 direct and indirect jobs and add R11bn to the local economy each year, while also playing a major role in decreasing passengers’ cost of living.

All of the Passenger Rail Association of SA’s myriad failures are borne by commuters, who are losing their time and money and feel unsafe. Unlike Prasa and the failing national government, we as the DA-led Western Cape government have a track record of improving public transport, and given the opportunity to do more through pioneering legislation such as the Provincial Powers Bill we will fix rail and public transport in this province.

• Winde is DA Western Cape premier candidate.

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