/ 18 March 2009

Marooned in Pretoria?

There’s a cool train service aimed at the business traveller in Gauteng. You get undercover parking, a free refreshment, free newspapers and Wi-Fi access. You can tap away on your laptop while using your cellphone to schedule meetings.

The service, between Pretoria and Johannesburg, costs R750 a month, meaning it’s great value at just R37.50 a day. Who wouldn’t pay that just for the pleasure of not sitting in the bumper-to-bumper traffic between Gauteng’s two largest cities?

The only problem, as Nicole, an irate would-be customer, found out, is that at this stage the service is pretty much one way. It’s great if you’re doing Pretoria to Jo’burg. You’ll get there and back out of business hours.

But try the journey the other way and you’ll have to return at 2.30pm to be able to get home. Either that or remain marooned in Pretoria.

Nicole was very excited when Transport Minister Jeff Radebe launched the train in May last year. Media reports said that “in the afternoons, the service will run from Johannesburg to Pretoria and back, arriving in Pretoria at 6.30pm”. As it is called the Business Express, Nicole gained the impression that she could also take it home in the afternoon, after work. When she learned that the train was returning much earlier and asked why, she was told: “It’s for students.”

Sisa Mtwa, chief executive of Metrorail, cannot tell Nicole when she will be able to be a Business Express commuter. Metrorail is launching a second train for commuters who live in Johannesburg, but Mtwa can’t say when it will be introduced.

Metrorail is “looking into” the new train, which is still “under consideration”, and is “doing a feasibility study”. It’s very likely to be launched before the end of the year, but Metrorail cannot commit to any dates and asks that the public gives it “space” while it is “sorting everything out”.

Metrorail is still looking into parking arrangements, creating links with a bus service and modifying a new train.

Mtwa says the media might have misinterpreted Radebe’s words at the launch, which could have created the confusion. So now Nicole is very upset, but she’s not sure if she should be angry with Radebe or with the media. Either way it doesn’t look as though she’s going to be gazing at the highveld through golden curtains on her way to work anytime soon.

The Business Express will continue after the Gautrain begins its operations next year. It makes fewer stops (two) than the Gautrain (four), which is expected to cost about R30 for a single trip between Jo’burg and Pretoria.