Road Accident Fund Amendment Bill; Airports Company Amendment Bill; voting

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23 May 2001
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

23 May 2001

: Mr J. Cronin (ANC)

Relevant Documents:
Road Accident Fund Amendment Bill [B21-01]
Airports Company Amendment Bill [B22-01]

Relevant document:
Final Committee Report: Pretoria Station, dated 23/05/01 (see Appendix)

The Committee voted unanimously in favour of the Road Accident Fund Amendment Bill and the Airports Company Amendment Bill. No amendments were made.

The Committee selected a three-person delegation to go to Johanesburg to investigate the problem of electrical cable theft from railways around Soweto. The Committee agreed that this is a problem which must be urgently addressed.

Road Accident Fund Amendment Bill [B21-01]
The Chairperson read the motion of desirability and the proposed Amendment Bill:
"Section 4 of the Road Accident Fund Act 56 of 1996 is amended by the addition to subsection (2), of paragraph (h) of the amendment bill."
The committee voted unanimously to adopt the Amendment Bill.

Mr Odendaal (NNP) proposed that committee members should approach their respective Whips to request a plenary debate on this Bill. The Transport Portfolio Committee would then have an opportunity to justify why it strongly supports this Bill by debating it in the National Assembly.

Mr Farrow (DP) did not support this proposal. However, the rest of the Committee (including the Chairperson) agreed that the Whips would be approached to initiate debate on the Bill.

Airports Company Amendment Bill [B20-01]
Chairperson Cronin (ANC) read out the motion of desirability and the Amendment Bill:
"Section 12(11) of the Airports Company Act/ 1993 is amended by the substitution, of subsection (11), with paragraph (a) of the amendment act."

The committee voted unanimously in favour of this Amendment bill.

Mr Farrow (DP) suggested a debate on the Bill. He felt that the broader implications of the Bill (the impact of the amendments on airport landing fees and the privatisation of ACSA) should be clarified.

Mr Cronin clarified that the immediate impact of the amendment was to strengthen the regulator's (ACSA) ability to regulate the Airport Committee. He felt that the issue of fees and privatisation was too remote to warrant further debate by the Transport Portfolio Committee in the Assembly.

Mr Ainslie (ANC) agreed with the Chairperson. He reminded the Committee that the issues Mr Farrow brought up had already been discussed in a previous meeting. Further deliberation would simply be time-consuming.

The Chairperson did not recommend debate in the House. He said however that he would point out to the ANCs Chief Whip that there were members in the Committee who wanted a debate in the National Assembly. He advised committee members who supported further debate to consult their respective Chief Whips to initiate this.

Transport Portfolio Committee report on Pretoria Station:
The Committee accepted the Report and made no amendments.

Mr Abrahams (UDM) expressed concern for the absence of provisions which relate to problems with the repair and maintenance of roads and rail. He said that this was related to the Transport Ministry's budget and wanted to know what the Committee could do to assist the Ministry.

Mr Cronin (ANC) replied that it is imperative for the committee and the Ministry to address the question of how to access funds (in the form of loans and Private-Public-Partnerships etc.). He felt that a solution to the funding problem could be found in the examination of various paradigms and examples from other countries. Mr Cronin finally stressed the importance of the proactive attitude and vision that the committee has.

Mr Abrahams (UDM) suggested that there should be greater and more frequent interaction between the committee and the Minister of Transport.

Mr Farrow (DP) agreed with this and felt it was long overdue.

Mr Slabbert (IFP) felt that the Ministry of Transport was experiencing logistical problems because of its complicated interrelation with other Ministries. The Ministry of Transport is indirectly related to the operations of two other Ministries. One of these is the Ministry of Public Enterprises (which is responsible for Transnet).

Mr Cronin (ANC) acknowledged that the complex linkages between the Ministries can be inconvenient. However, he said that it should not be a barrier to fostering coherence within these institutional structures.

Mr Scheemann (ANC) discussed the railway problem experienced by Soweto commuters (he referred specifically to the morning of 23 May 2001). Basically, electrical cable theft delays trains. This type of problem is becoming too frequent and needs to be urgently addressed. He suggested that a delegation be selected from the committee to investigate this problem generally and specifically in Soweto.

The committee agreed to this suggestion. They decided that a three-person delegation would be sent to Johannesburg by Friday 25 May 2001.

The meeting was adjourned.


Report of the Portfolio Committee on Transport on Visit to Pretoria Station, dated 23 May 2001:
The Portfolio Committee on Transport, having undertaken a fact-finding mission to Pretoria Station and other stations in the area, reports as follows:

A. Introduction
The Committee embarked on the mission to monitor the situation and establish factors that led to the fire at the Pretoria Station.

In accordance with its oversight function, the Committee took it upon itself to meet with stakeholders on the whole issue of rail commuters. A multiparty delegation of 13 members went on this trip, which took place on 12 March 2001.

The delegation consisted of Mr J P Cronin (Chairperson); Mr H Fazzie; Mrs B Tinto; Mrs S Mnumzana; Mrs D Ngcengwane; Mr T Abrahams; Mr G Schneemann; Dr W A Odendaal; Mr S Farrow; Ms H Malebana; Mrs T Shilubane; Mr R Ainslie; and Mr M Sibiya.

In order to examine these important issues, the delegation visited three major stations in the area:

1. Mabopane Station
2. Wolmerton Station (Depot)
3. Pretoria Station

The members were on board a third-class coach from Mabopane to Wolmerton station, interacting with commuters about their frustrations regarding Metrorail services.

B. Mabopane Station
1. Background
Mabopane Station is one of the busiest stations in the City of Tshwane. It was built as a modal integration station, with buses and taxis being feeders to the rail industry. The station serves approximately 120 000 train/bus/taxi commuters per day and serves as a link between the Pretoria CBD, Mamelodi and Johannesburg.

The management of the station is shared amongst two roleplayers. The Mabopane Transitional Local Council manages one area, which falls under North West, and Intersite manages the other area, which falls under Gauteng.

Small businesses on the Gauteng side are formalised, whereas on the North West side they are not formalised.

2. Conditions at Mabopane Station
According to the Mabopane Station Manager, Mr S Lekgari, most customers who are using the station on a daily basis reside in the North West Province. He alluded to the fact that the station is not customer-friendly, in the sense that there are no facilities for disabled people and no funds to upgrade the station.

The Committee observed the following:
(a) Besides the lack of funding, there are also signs of poor management on the North West side (e.g. filthiness, electric cables lying around and lack of basic maintenance).

(b) At the station, there are no train timetables on the notice boards, and the communication system is not effectively utilised.

3. Some concerns raised by commuters
(a) There is often ineffective communication between commuters and Metrorail.

(b) Partly due to theft and vandalism, trains are often late, and thus some commuters lose their jobs because they then are also late.

(c) Metrorail often does not announce when, and give reasons as to why, trains are going to be delayed.

(d) The announcement speakers at the station are often out of order.

(e) When asked about a commuter forum, they had no idea whether such a forum existed.

(f) The environment at the station is not hygienic.

(g) Commuternet - the station radio is not utilised to make announcements. Instead, it plays music all the time.

(h) Metrorail cancels trains and takes them off the schedule without informing commuters. As a result, trains that do run are very full, which leads to commuters being stranded and exposed to danger - the reckless ones hang on doors and between coaches.

(i) Commuters are not safe on trains - they are harassed by thugs and gangs.

(j) Security personnel are of no help either. Indeed, they are harassing commuters.

(k) Metrorail keeps on increasing the number of first-class coaches, which are always empty. More third-class coaches are in demand, because the majority of commuters use it.

(l) Security personnel re-sell tickets to incorrect destinations to desperate commuters. This causes more confusion and frustration.

(m) Trains are a health hazard, as they are not cleaned.

(n) Commuters state that they have very little options but to use the train, as it is the cheapest mode, compared to buses and taxis.

(o) Commuters noted that there is no train service between Mabopane and Rustenburg. They felt that a bus service should be provided, to avoid paying more transport fares.

While the Committee could not, in the time available, establish the veracity of all these concerns, delays and lack of effective communication were concerns raised consistently by virtually all commuters they spoke to.

C. Wolmerton Station Depot
Wolmerton Station Depot is a repair workshop dealing with short-term repairs and maintenance.

Mr Tinor Gabric, the Wolmerton Station Depot Manager, indicated that vandalism on coaches is caused by commuter frustration due to train delays. This is also a criminal and an economic activity.

He took members around the depot and showed them vandalised trains. He mentioned that this is a problem that happens on a daily basis, at the same time explaining that it is expensive and time-consuming to replace sliding doors, windows and seats. He stated that criminals who are involved in this, are after the aluminium, which is very expensive and fetches a good price with scrap dealers.

Mr Gabric indicated that the tendency of commuters to stand on the connecting sector not only endanger their lives, but it damages cables, which in turn results in train delays.

He mentioned that vandalism often occurs whilst the train is in motion, and Metrorail/SARCC do not have the capacity to employ enough security officers. He indicated that vandalism impacts negatively on the availability of trains and also affects their maintenance budget.

He also stated that a programme aimed at improving the material used for doors and windows is under way. Although expensive, it will reduce the rate of vandalism.

Mr Honey Mateya, the Metrorail Chief Executive Officer, stated that there are commuter forums - SANCO was involved when the forums were established. Metrorail is not participating in these forums, as they are fully commuter-driven. Metrorail assists in publicising forum meetings by providing flyers to commuters and by making announcements to radio stations.

Metrorail/SARCC admitted that there are problems with communication with commuters. There is a centralised intercom system, but it is not good enough. Mr Mateya indicated that Metrorail, together with SARCC, is working hard to improve the conditions on trains to make them more commuter-friendly.

Mr Chris Kilowan, Acting Regional Manager (Pretoria) Metrorail, mentioned that there is a shortage of train drivers, and this also contributes to the insufficient service they provide to commuters. At present, the challenge is that it takes 18 months to two years to train drivers, and the examination test is quite tough. However, they hope to overcome the backlog within two years.

There is also a constant problem of drivers on sick leave because of stress-related illnesses. This is as a result of many people committing suicide by throwing themselves in front of oncoming trains.

Another cause of driver shortage is the regulations and lack of planning of Metrorail. He also mentioned that a plan of using dedicated cellphones is under way to avoid train accidents, like the one in Tembisa.

D. Pretoria Station
Some delegates inspected the damaged part of the Pretoria Station. Mr Prentice, Intersite Managing Director, mentioned that it will cost R30 million to renovate the station. It is envisaged that by June all renovations will be complete.

Mr Prentice went on to say that an investigation is under way and that the Committee will get a preliminary indication as to what really caused the fire. He mentioned that Pretoria Station is a very busy terminus.

On the day of the incident, trains were delayed for over 40 minutes due to fibre-optic cable malfunction. The same malfunction affected the station's public address system, so there was no way of communicating to commuters what was causing the train delays. Eventually some 1 700 commuters gathered on the platform.

In reply to questions from the delegation, it was conceded that no alternative means of communication were contemplated, much less used.

A section of the crowd started vandalising shops in the station complex, during which the fire was started.

The Committee does not condone the act of vandalism, but it is probable that poor communication and commuter frustration contributed to the fire.

E. South African Rail Commuter Corporation
Mr J P van Niekerk, Executive Manager: Finance, SARCC, briefed the Committee on government funding of commuter rail. He noted the deepening crisis in the sector: The average age of rolling stock is now 24 years, and the signalling system is very old. Current subsidy commitments are well below what is required to sustain commuter rail, let alone expand services.

Mr Van Niekerk estimated that at current levels of investment there will be no commuter rail left in South Africa within 15 years.

He explained that the SARCC explored loan mechanisms, but that the Treasury is very sensitive about departments or government agencies trying to obtain loans independently.

F. Follow-up and recommendations
The Committee feels that this was a very brief visit, although a lot came out of it. There is a need to have follow-up visits to interact with commuters and management.

Many of the problems in the commuter rail system relate directly to inadequate funding over 20 years. However, while addressing the funding challenge, there are also immediate changes that can be carried forward.

The Committee comments and recommends as follows:

1. In the light of insufficient funding and lack of recapitalisation, the Department of Transport must develop an effective funding strategy for commuter rail to ensure the maintenance of existing services, and to make expanded rail commuter services possible.

2. Metrorail must pay more attention to effective communication with passengers, both at stations and on trains.

3. All stakeholders develop programmes to foster a sense of ownership among rail commuters so that the public takes a more active part in preventing vandalism and crime.

4. Consideration must be given (perhaps in co-operation with the SAPS) to the development of a dedicated and trained rail commuter security and safety division.

5. The lack of affordable integration between buses and trains must be addressed.

6. All stakeholders should look at ways of improving conditions at stations.

7. There is a need to develop active, dynamic and more representative commuter forums which can assist with educating commuters about safeguarding coaches and safety on trains.

8. Interaction is needed between the Department of Transport, the Department of Public Enterprises and the Department of Safety and Security on safeguarding the interests of stakeholders.

9. New and refurbished stations of a better quality will benefit commuters.

10. The station and train security personnel require special training, and there should be uniform security training for public transport.

G. Acknowledgements
The Committee wishes to thank the SARCC, Metrorail, Intersite and the SAPS for making this trip possible and fruitful.


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