Cape Town’s move to take over the railway: the Treasury supports the probe, but Mbalula brakes
In a letter dated April 15 and seen by Fin24, Godongwana responds to a letter from councilor Roberto Quintas, a member of the mayor’s committee for transport, dated January 21.
- A team of rail experts nominated by the city of Cape Town will launch a feasibility study on 1 July on the potential for the city to take over the management of passenger railways from the national government.
- The Treasury supports the feasibility study and Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said so Cape Town’s attempts to respond to transportation challenges are welcome.
- However, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said it is up to him – and not Godongwana – to assign any public transport function to a municipality.
The Department of the National Treasury supports Cape Town’s new feasibility study on whether to operate its own passenger rail system, the department told Fin24.
A critical component of the study will be understanding the tax impacts for the city and the implications of how public transport is financed in the budget, the Treasury said. A team of rail experts nominated by the city of Cape Town will launch a feasibility study on 1 July on the potential for the city to take over the management of passenger railways from the national government.
In a letter to the Municipality, seen by Fin24, the Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana stresses that, in accordance with the Constitution, a municipality can be assigned a function when there is an agreement between the national and provincial governments; and where there is adequate capacity at the municipal level to perform the function.
“Consequently, the Municipal Systems Act allows the city to conduct a feasibility study, as the study will help the city make an informed decision on how best to perform this specific function, including the associated financial costs,” Godongwana says.
“Such a study is essential as the allocation and delegation framework requires the government to recognize the current capacity constraints facing many municipalities.”
In the letter – dated April 15, and addressed to councilor Roberto Quintas, a member of the mayor’s committee for transport – Godongwana said that “the attempts of your municipality to respond adequately to the increase in commuters and activity in your city are appreciated. “. Godongwana was responding to a letter from Quintas on the idea of doing a feasibility study “on the assignment of the urban railway function to the city of Cape Town.
The railroad ‘has imploded’
However, in a late night statement on Thursday, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula he said that although he supports Godongwana’s “sentiment”, he, as minister of transport, and not Godongwana, is the only one authorized by law to assign any public transport function to a municipality, subject to political and legal imperatives. This position was confirmed by the National Treasury on Friday evening.
Mbalula indicated that, in the coming week, he will publicly release the White Paper on National Railway Policy which also deals with the devolution of the railway function to cities such as the Cape Town Railway and will address the subject in detail at launch.
According to Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, the passenger railroad in Cape Town “has imploded to a level where it barely works” and the entire system will need to be overhauled. Therefore, the feasibility study by a team of rail experts will help with how to deal with a potential acquisition by the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (PRASA).
Due to the decline of Cape Town’s commuter rail service, coinciding with restrictions related to Covid-19, the city estimates that over the past decade, approximately 570,000 passenger journeys per day have switched from passenger transport to modes of transport on road, which is more expensive and time-consuming. In 1995 the 270 km network was served by 95 convoys, but as of December 2019, 44 convoys were in operation. The central south-east line is currently not operational.
Godongwana says, in his view, that failure to address the problems of urban railways will perpetuate unsustainable and unfair investments in the streets, resulting in a sprawling urban form.
“If the resources are not available to support access and mobility, congestion will worsen in South African cities to the point of traffic jam, worsening spatial inequality, reducing competitiveness and hindering economic growth,” Godongwana says.
“The political intent, in the White Paper on Transport Policy and in the draft White Paper on Rail Policy, is to devolve public transport to the lowest level, together with the planning provisions of the national land transport law supports the approach taken from the city to understand the implications of assigning functions “.