New Gautrain route must be rejected says AA – here’s what should be done instead

 ·13 Aug 2021

The Automobile Association (AA) says that proposed route extensions to the Gautrain must be rejected by the Gauteng Provincial Government as they will perpetuate a system that caters for a minority of citizens who don’t need it, instead of the mass market which does.

This call on the provincial government is contained in a detailed submission by the AA in relation to the proposed extensions of the Gauteng Rapid Rail Integrated Network, or simply, the Gautrain.

The Gauteng government intends to determine a route for Phase 1 of the extensions and is seeking input from the public.

The public has until Sunday 15 August 2021 to submit written comments on the proposed phase extensions, which carry from Marlboro through Sandton, Randburg, Cosmo City and Little Falls.

The following is a broad description of the route:

The proposed route starts at the proposed location of the Little Falls Station which is located to the east of Hendrik Potgieter Road in Willowbrook. From the proposed Little Falls Station, the route runs in a northeasterly direction towards Zandspruit where the route will pass to the west of Jackal Creek Golf Estate.

The route then changes in a southeasterly direction towards Cosmo City and a newly proposed Cosmo Station. From the Cosmo Station, the route will continue in a southeasterly direction towards the newly proposed Randburg Station, passing through North Riding, Olivedale, Bryanston, and Ferndale.

The route will continue in a southeasterly direction through Randburg, Bordeaux, and Hurlingham. Once it has reached Sandhurst the route will change direction towards the existing Sandton Station where an upgraded station is proposed.

From Sandton the route will run in a northeasterly direction through Sandton, Sandown, Marlboro, and Alexandra towards the existing Marlboro Station that will be upgraded to accommodate the new alignment.

In its submission, the AA highlights several key factors which it believes negate the extension of Gautrain – among them, the fact that the current demand of the system is low, and that economic viability cannot be established within reasonable risk parameters.

“Simply put, the Gautrain doesn’t carry enough passengers currently – certainly not as many as it had projected when it started. Spending valuable financial resources now to continue with a system that doesn’t have a demand, at the expense of better, more efficient, and more affordable transport does not make any sense.

“We are in favour of alternatives that provide solutions to vehicle usage, and which reduce pollution and congestion – but the Gautrain is not that solution,” said the AA.

It said that low usage of the Gautrain puts additional pressure on the province’s Transport Budget which effectively means other transport options are not properly funded, again disadvantaging the mass market which needs it most.

“The so-called Patronage Guarantee is a mechanism whereby Bombela – the concessionaire which operates Gautrain – is compensated for sub-par ridership levels of their trains. This means they can rely on the Gauteng Provincial Government as a funder of last resort regardless of how well or badly their business fares.

“It’s a disgraceful and outrageous agreement which has cost taxpayers close on R12 billion since 2012 just because not enough people see value in using the Gautrain,” the AA said.

The association noted that because of the Patronage Guarantee – which is, effectively, built-in insurance for poor performance – less money is available for more effective methods of mass transit which can convey many more people in a more flexible way and at a lower cost.

Instead, the AA urged the Gauteng Provincial Government to invest heavily in the creation of a provincial-scale bus system as the most appropriate solution to mass transit in Gauteng.

The provision of safe cycle lanes and solutions for those who walk the ‘last mile’ to work and home must also be considered. This, the AA said, has inexpensive infrastructure requirements, and will integrate with all other modes of transport.

It will also encourage non-motorised transport, and bring cost-effective travel within reach of all citizens.

“In the years leading up to Cabinet’s approval of Gautrain in 2005, many different individuals, groups and organisations, including the then Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport, raised concerns that Gautrain was neither a financially sound nor a sustainable investment.

“Almost two decades later, these concerns have been realised and instead of solving the province’s dire transport crisis, Gautrain has become a system for the well-off who in any event have access to other modes of transport,” the AA said.

The association said these issues highlight just some of its concerns and that many more are included in its submission. Among these are unsubstantiated projections of the economic benefits Gautrain has had on areas surrounding the stations, the lack of identifiable target riders for new routes, and the high costs of expropriating the land to build the extensions on.

“On all counts, the Gautrain is a failed system as far as providing a mass transit solution for the people of the province. It will continue to be a failed system the longer it remains so heavily subsidised by taxpayers at the expense of reliable, efficient and affordable transport solutions.

“To extend the Gautrain services now is economically inappropriate and unacceptable, and the process should be halted immediately,” the AA said.

Read: Warning over Gautrain’s expansion plans

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