Earlier this morning I visited Park Station in Johannesburg to talk to commuters about the escalating price of train tickets and how it impacts their lives.
Metrorail security decided to forcibly remove me and other Democratic Alliance (DA) activists from the station before we could meet with commuters inside the public train station.
Clearly, Metrorail doesn’t like its customers having an honest conversation about the huge increases they are forced to pay for deteriorating services.
The pretext offered by station security for kicking us out was that we needed permission to stage a political rally. But in reality there were only a handful of us in attendance. All we wanted to do was gauge commuter sentiment about the quality and cost of this public service. Metrorail was obviously looking for any excuse to stop us talking to its customers.
We did manage to talk to a number of commuters outside the station. The message was clear: Metrorail commuters are fed up with paying more money for a service that gets worse and worse.
Metrorail commuters constantly face delays, cancellations, overcrowding, dirty trains and dirty stations. On top of that, there was a significant increase in the price of their tickets in April this year. In Johannesburg, for example, prices increased by 11%. In Cape Town, Metrorail (which is run by national government) hiked prices by 27%. How can Metrorail justify such huge price increases when the services consistently deteriorate?
I will seek a meeting with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to demand an explanation for why I and other DA activists were barred access to a public space.
But the real victims here are the commuters who are dependent on Metrorail for transportation. They are facing more expensive transport costs and increasingly erratic services by Metrorail, with delays and cancellations becoming a daily reality for Metrorail clients. These people’s consumer rights are being violated since Metrorail never reimburses clients when trains are late or cancelled. I will ask the National Consumer Commissioner to initiate an investigation into this problem as well.
In order for us to meet our developmental objectives, like increasing economic growth and creating more jobs, public transport must be reliable and affordable. Metrorail must start respecting the rights of its customers and the public at large. PRASA has some explaining to do.