Prasa defends commuter fee increases

Train fares are skewed in favour of rail commuters and poor communities, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) said on Tuesday.

Last week, Prasa said it would increase Metrorail fares as early as next month by an average of 27%. This prompted complaints from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in the Western Cape.

“Train fares remain by far the lowest prices in comparison to any other form of transport in the country, with a single trip costing on average R2.84,” Prasa CEO Lucky Montana said on Tuesday.

“Alternatively, an adult ticket costs R5 per trip, which is far below what people spend on airtime or other non-essentials on any given day,” he said.

Less than half of Prasa’s rail operating budget of R7.6-billion was subsidised by the government, Montana said.

Prasa’s proposed train fare increases would generate R323-million for Metrorail and R79-million for Shosholoza Meyl. The increases would help to continue delivering quality services and promoting public transport over private cars.

Prasa had to recover its running costs to pay for energy, maintenance, material, salaries and rates and taxes for its stations.

It had consulted commuter structures and stakeholders, including Cosatu in the Western Cape, Montana said.

The bulk of discounts would go to monthly commuters, he said.

Single trips from Ndabeni or Claremont to Cape Town, which cost R5, would increase to R6.

In the same zone, weekly ticket prices would increase from R30 to R39, an increase of 64c a trip.

Monthly tickets would go up from R90 to R117, or an extra 45c a trip.

Metro weekly ticket holders had to pay for only 6.5 out of 14 trips, and Metro Plus ticket holders for eight out of 14 trips.

Monthly ticket holders were able to travel for the entire month but had to pay for only three weeks’ worth of trips.

‘Devastating’ commuters
Although an average increase of 27% sounded high, in real terms it amounted to an increase of between 50c and R1, Prasa said.

The base price remained uneconomically low, posing a risk of running down the rail assets, Montana said.

Prasa would invest R25.9-billion in the next three years to modernise the rail network.

“These are interventions that will ensure South Africa has in place the first elements of a modern commuter rail from 2014/15,” he said.

On Thursday, Cosatu Western Cape provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich said the increase would “devastate” commuters.

“Cosatu cannot accept this as it would have a devastating impact on commuters, many of whom already live on the breadline.
Cosatu has called for a detailed process of engagement to explore alternatives to this huge increase,” he said.—Sapa

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