Speech by Honorable Mduduzi Manana during the debate on the impact of the Gautrain Service disruptions due to cable theft on the viabibility of modernized Public Transport and commuter confidence

31 August 2011

Honourable Speaker
Honourable Members

Transport is a basic need and a vital tool to enable access to employment and economic opportunities. The ANC government has massively invested in public transport, with a transport infrastructure development programme never before seen in our country. This infrastructure development constitutes part of the ANC job creation and decent work through infrastructural development programme.

South Africa as a regional and continental economic hub requires a transport system that will enhance rapidly evolving markets for labour, capital, goods and services. Transport infrastructure needs to respond to the demands of these markets within the region. From 1994 one of our major tasks the ANC government undertook was to conduct a massive survey of infrastructure needs in the face of the obvious backlogs. The infrastructure backlog of the Apartheid legacy totaled some R170 billion.

Infrastructure provides much needed access for people to services, facilities and opportunities. The ANC government has massively invested in public transport with a major transport infrastructure development programme never before seen in our country. The centrality of infrastructure development through well-planned and managed infrastructure programmes is a catalyst for development and the base upon which economic programmes can flourish. Any development process must entail a commitment to investment in infrastructure.

The budget of the Department of Transport indicates that rail transport expenditure increased from R 7.5 billion in 2007/08 to R 9.3 billion and is expected to increase from R 9.5 billion to R 10.8 billion over the medium term. Transfers to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa are expected to grow by R2 billion between 2010/11 and 2013/14.

Therefore Gauteng, the country`s economic hub, which has been experiencing serious traffic congestion for many years on its major routes, has had to respond to what could have if left resulted in serious impediments to the overall growth of the economic hub. The N1 Freeway carries some of the highest traffic volumes in South Africa with more than 157 000 vehicles travelling on it per day and a traffic growth rate of 7 per cent per year. There is currently 300 000 cars per week day in the Pretoria-Johannesburg traffic corridor. Traffic congestion on this portion of the N1 Freeway is estimated to cost more than R300 million per year, including production time lost during travelling time, higher transport costs and above average accident rates. The ANC`s emphasis on investing in public transport is a conscious decision to provide a service to the majority people who do not own private transport and who need efficient and effective public transport. This conscious decision equally seeks to attract commuters away from their private motor vehicles and contribute towards lowering the carbon foot print.

This places a greater responsibility on national, provincial and local government to ensure that public transport systems meet the needs of the communities they serve. The provision of an affordable and efficient transport system that reduces overall household expenditure on travel costs and decreases actual time spent on travelling is critical. The Gautrain, an 80 kilometres rapid rail network, was conceived and developed to connect Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport, easing congestion on the Johannesburg-Pretoria highway by offering commuters a safe and viable alternative to road travel.

Apart from alleviating the severe traffic congestion, economic development will be stimulated by the rapid rail system and it will have distinct environmental advantages over other forms of transport. Passenger figures since the operation of the Gautrain service between Johannesburg and Tshwane has been beyond expectations. During the first week of operation the number of passengers steadily increased from 19 248 on the first day of operations to 41 883 on 9 August 2011. Phase 1A of Gautrain has been operational between the Airport and Sandton since 8 June 2010 and Phase 1B between Hatfield and Rosebank since 2 August 2011. Phase 1A experienced very sporadic and isolated cable theft of small lengths that were replaced without any apparent service disruption.

However, phase 1B was disrupted on 10 and 16 August of this year as a result of cable theft. On 10 August 160 metres of copper core earthing cable was stolen from a substation near Pretoria Station and the line between Hatfield and Centurion was closed for over 6 hours as alternative power was routed to the section of the line. On 16 August 150 metres of signal cable in the section though centurion was stolen, resulting in an 8 hour shutdown of the line between Hatfield and Centurion.

To attract and retain commuting passengers, the service must be extremely punctual and reliable and the operator immediately deployed buses to ferry passengers between these two stations. It is estimated that between 3 and 4 thousand passenger trips were lost on each of those days as a result of the theft.

With two cable thefts which brought the Gautrain to a halt, commuters are wondering whether their newest form of transport is reliable. There is not only a direct impact on operations, but also on people`s long-term view of the service and the Gautrain commuter link is becoming especially vulnerable to perceptions around certainty, as it is expected that 75 per cent of customers to be loyalty customers.

Honourable Speaker, this recent disruption of the Gautrain services due to copper theft has drawn renewed attention to the overall economic impact of this crime. The Gautrain is not the only entity affected by cable theft. Also hard hit is the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, which operates the Metrorail commuter train services, as well as power utility Eskom, phone company Telkom and municipalities . In the case of Metrorail theft of cables makes up 70 per cent of the incidents of theft and vandalism across the whole rail network, with around 20 kilometres of copper cable currently lost a month to criminal gangs. The intrinsic value of the copper might be relatively low, but the consequential cost to the economy is enormous.

The Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport, Comrade Ismail Vadi, does not only see these criminal acts as interference of the normal functioning of public transport but as acts of economic sabotage which has caused a massive inconvenience to thousands of working people using the Gautrain. Comrade Vadi condemned these acts in the strongest terms and called on law enforcement agencies not to see this as petty crime and urged them to leave no stone unturned in apprehending the perpetrators of these criminal acts.

With the Department of Energy estimating that cable theft had cost the country around R100 million last year and that the indirect costs to the economy being far higher. The Minister of Energy, Comrade Dipuo Peters wants copper theft to be classified as economic sabotage. She has suggested to the Minister of Justice, Comrade Jeff Radebe that legislation be changed so that cable theft can be classified as a serious offence.

The law has got to make it harder for thieves to steal copper and sell it for a quick buck. It has got to be tougher and the penalties much more steeper, because it is now clear that copper theft is a highly organised syndicate and is slowly becoming a national epidemic.

Law enforcement agencies have got to intensify and be given the required resources to fight against this epidemic which has become a costly nuisance to public utilities who are forced to spend million of rands on repairs and security, all at taxpayers expense. Honourable Speaker and Honourable Members, we need to start calculating the cost to the economy and the cost to the lives of the people of South Africa if anybody steals this particular important resource. There is no technology available that is able to replace copper for the transport network as well as for electricity, and for the provision of telecommunications.

It is necessary that our public transport system be developed to a point where commuters of all strata would consider public transport, rather than private transport, as a mode of choice. For that to happen, public transport must prove itself to be reliable and punctual which, in turn can only happen if the scourge of cable theft is contained effectively. Public transport must continue to attract new riders and retain existing ones as well as ensure support from the community at large.

The provision of effective passenger transport services is vital not only for the sustainability and growth of business and job creation, but also for discouraging sprawling land use, which is inimical to sustainability. Public transport is the thread that ties together many aspects of modern existence. People depend on it, and they often spend a significant proportion of their income on it.

In conclusion Transport has a huge impact on the lives of our people, as well as on our economic growth and development. Our ability to spearhead growth and development will be partly measured by our success in providing a transport system consistent with the demands of our people and our economy. It is of utmost importance that public confidence in our public transport system is critical and the mobility of our people be enhanced to reach their places of employment, enabling them to access opportunities and contributing to building better and sustainable communities.

I thank you.