Worker who earns R3,500 per month spends R1,200 on transport

Metrorail’s return to service remains extremely limited

By Sandiso Phaliso

1 February 2024

Trains at the Paarden Eiland Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa depot in Cape Town. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Anele Gxekwa, from Crossroads, who earns R3,500 a month as a cleaner, spends R1,200 of it on transport. This is because Metrorail’s return to service in Cape Town has been so limited it has left most commuters dependent on minibus taxis and buses which are much more expensive.

A return Metrorail trip from Nyanga to Cape Town, which costs R18, costs R50 by minibus. The weekly Metrorail ticket is R59, by minibus it costs R250. A Metrorail monthly ticket costs R175, while taxi fare is about R1,000.

Work-seekers are also very hard hit. Mkhuseli Sishuba, who is unemployed and from Philippi, said it “is killing us”.

During the week, trains on the Central Line only provide a limited service with two trips – one in the morning and a return trip in the evening. And it takes long. Commuters travelling to central Cape Town boarding at Nyanga have to change trains at Mutual.

On Saturdays, the central line only runs from Cape Town station up to Langa, leaving commuters living in Bonteheuwel, Netreg, Heideveld and Nyanga without a service.

And Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha, the city’s biggest townships, have no train service at all because the Central Line servicing them is broken.

A signalling system is currently being installed to safely increase trains to Nyanga by end of April. “All other systems have been repaired and additional lines have been built between Nyanga and Cape Town,” said Metrorail spokesperson Zinobulali Mihi.

Trains in Cape Town do not operate at all on Sundays. And last Friday, 26 January, rail computers were left stranded as services were suspended on the Southern, Central and Northern lines due to early morning cable theft near an Eskom substation that affected the stabling yard. “No trains could depart from the yard to the outer stations to start the service,” Mihi told GroundUp.

“Trains do not operate on Sundays and public holidays for now, due to the region performing heavy maintenance and repairs to the majority of the recovered infrastructure,” she said.

A return to service on these days will depend on demand, which was not supported during the last December holidays when trains did run on Sundays and public holidays.

“The travelling patterns of commuters have changed post Covid,” said Mihi.

People living in Philippi, Stock Road, Nolungile, Nonkqubela, Khayelitsha, Chris Hani, Mitchells Plain and Kapteinsklip have no option but to continue using expensive minibus taxis and bus services.

Map of Metrorail lines in Cape Town

Metrorail map for Cape Town. But some of what’s shown, for example Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha, has not operated for years. Source: Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)