There’s a Rail Day Zero, what can you do?

Cape Town is experiencing a rail crisis. The rail service — once a backbone of mobility and land use — has been gradually crumbling, with a more recent rapid decline. This has had impacts on congestion, on people’s safety, on people’s ability to get to work, school, university and back home in decent time, and its also had an impact on peoples cost of living. We are losing rail sets by the day, and to add to this PRASA is at risk of losing its operating licence. We are at real risk of a rail “day zero”. But what the hell can YOU do?

Seven actions anyone can take:

There goes my train…

1. Tell the story: help raise awareness by talking, writing, tweeting about the crisis. UniteBehind frequently tells human interest stories worth sharing. They’ve also produced a podcast on the issue.

2. Ask for accountability and progress: during the water crisis, citizens received weekly updates. These were unpacked by various independent commentators and experts — sometimes favourably, other times less so. But politicians and senior officials were communicating weekly if not daily on what they were doing and the impact it was having. Its time we have the same for rail.

Like water, there are complexities — mandates sit across spheres of government (National role players would include PRASA, Department of Transport, State owned Enterprises and SAPS, for example; Provincial role players would include Transport and Public Works and Community Safety, while locally the municipality has the Department of Transport and Urban Development as well as metro police. Neither of these have a jurisdiction over rail, but there is a responsibility to work with other spheres and sectors to ensure service continuity).

By law, local structures such as the Intermodal Planning Committee (IPC) and the Land Based Transport Advisory Board (LTAB) are required to convene intergovernmental and cross sector transport service providers. Ask your local politician, or the Minister of Transport, PRASA Board, MEC for Transport and Public Works and Mayco Member for Transport and Urban Development to account for the functioning of these platforms, and any others that they may be using to jointly resolve the issue.

As citizens, we need to get specific about details — what is being done, by whom, when. And if no agreements are in place, who is meeting with whom, how frequently, and what is the progress towards agreements?

Some actions we do know about, and should be receiving regular progress updates on include:

3. See something, say something: there are many rumors about who is behind the arson attacks on rail infrastructure, but little evidence. You can report what you see to PRASA who have offered R25 000 rewards for information that leads somewhere.

4. Play nice: while we are in this crisis, remember your urban etiquette. If you’re a user of public transport, share information with fellow passengers — if you have data and can get updates from @CapeTownTrains, do it. If you’re a driver and frustrated with congestion, follow road rules, don’t drive in the bus lane which is there for mass transit vehicles. The faster they can move, the more trips they can do — for far more people than ‘you’. Understand the democracy inherent in these lanes. There’s a lot more to be said on urban etiquette (p12–13) when times are tough — share your suggestions on remaining friendly and tolerant in the face of delays, crowds and congestion.

5. Connect and communicate for continuity at work, at home and in your community. “Late for work, late for home” has economic and social impacts. At work, or at home and in your neighbourhood, talk to one another about this impact. During the water crisis my colleagues at the EDP developed this toolkit, many of the same principles apply. How are you accommodating colleagues, employees, family members and neighbours who are disproportionately impacted by crumbling rail? What if we reach a rail day zero?

6. Leverage the power of your firm/industry: talk to the captains of your industry about what they are doing to support the public sector with solutions, or to innovate around state failure and mitigate the impact on employees and the economy. Some big areas where innovation is needed include:

  • Integrated ticketing, and in particular an interim solution to the utilisation of paid-up-front Metrorail tickets on other modes of transport (speak to me more about this)
  • Ride-share — we have the apps, whats stopping us?
  • Work-from-home models
  • Contributing to the rail safety fund for even more police officers
  • Sponsoring a station with security and cleansing
  • Improved real-time transit information

7. Support movements such as #UniteBehind; #WalkingBus and #Bike2Work And #PublicTransportVoice

This blog is intended for the more privileged Capetonian who may have mobility choices, but it still affected by the rail crisis (we all are) and feels powerless. For those most directly and adversely affected, many of the above are relevant, but additional actions for surviving financially, socially, talking to one’s boss, staying safe etc would be needed.

Archive of thoughts. Imperfect, incomplete and not assumed to be my final position. My actions speak louder than my words. Learn more: