Cape Town - Metrorail's ability to deliver a quality service to commuters remains under pressure, according to the Passenger Rail Agency of SA's (Prasa) annual report tabled in parliament.
Giving an overview of the 2011/12 financial year, Prasa CEO Lucky Montana said it was a historic year for passenger railways in South Africa.
Montana was referring to government's announcements that it would invest tens of billions of rand in acquiring new rolling stock for commuters and long-distance passenger services.
The planned investment would, however, only be realised in coming years.
"The top priority for Prasa is to transform Metrorail to deliver high-quality train services by 2014/15," he said.
Montana listed various problems that would continue to plague the delivery of a quality service to commuters in the interim.
"Operations continued to experience challenges on the quality and revenue side due to factors, such as poor demand driven by the slow recovery of the economy..., ageing rolling stock, and obsolete infrastructure," he said.
He cited vandalism on key operating assets which led to signal failures, as well as the encroachment of informal settlements on the rail reserve, poor scheduling of maintenance, and the inability to match demand with existing capacity, as reasons for the failure to attract more commuters to use and pay for train services.
"Passenger numbers in rail were 18.6% below target for Metrorail, but showed an annual improvement of 9.5%," said Montana.
Montana said a programme of action was being introduced.
- night and off-peak maintenance of trains;
- accelerated rolling stock programme;
- quick response teams to respond to service failures; and
- improved communication with customers (SMS system).
On the long-line service, difficulties were also continuing, including a further 7.5% decline in passenger numbers.
"Passenger numbers following the introduction of the rationalised service that is more aligned to the resources, especially locomotive availability, is showing encouraging results," said Montana.
"However, on-time arrivals at destinations still remain at below 40%."
Montana said this resulted in the long-line service placing constraints on Prasa's operational cash-flow.
"Revenues and subsidy allocations for the service do not cover the minimum operational expenditure levels."
He said staff costs continued to exceed generated income in the rail environment.
"The impact of lower revenues as a result of lower-than-targeted passenger volumes (both Metrorail and Mainline Passenger Service) was evident in the high cost per passenger, high subsidy per passenger, and low income per passenger."
Montana said fare evasion by commuters was increasing as many had lost jobs during the economic downturn and could not pay as they used trains in search of jobs.