The Cape Town Metro has instructed its legal team to settle an intergovernmental dispute over the devolution of passenger rail forces and service standards.
Geordin Hill-Lewis, Cape Town mayor, says the city has so far been unable to establish a joint working committee on devolution with the national government. This action is contrary to pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s comments in parliament that there has already been broad deliberation on the government’s intended rail devolution strategy.
The president also said in a question session in parliament this week that certain short-term goals must be achieved by next year, medium-term goals by 2030 and long-term goals by 2050. “The development of the devolution strategy is one of the short-term interventions that must be completed by next year.”
The white paper also makes key announcements about the future of urban rail transport in South Africa, the president said.
Ramaphosa had earlier undertaken to give feedback on Cape Town’s request for a working committee – and this was also addressed to the current and previous Minister of Transport – but without success, says Hill-Lewis.
“In parliament the president says ‘viva la cooperation’, but our experience is exactly the opposite. On the contrary, we were surprised by the president’s claim of consultations taking place on a national devolution strategy. As a leading city preparing to take over rail transport, we are in the dark about the alleged consultation with a broad group of stakeholders; this includes transport authorities, of which we are also one,” says the mayor.
Prasa also refused to sign a service level agreement on targets to improve rail services. The agreement forms the basis for spin-off and is a legal requirement. “Without these important measures, we fear that the devolution of passenger rail transport will drag on for years to come,” says Hill-Lewis.
“This is unacceptable for us and for the million commuters on whose behalf we fight.”
According to Hill-Lewis, the government’s timelines are also vague and that Cape Town needs devolution of these services – and trains that work – as soon as possible.
At this stage, only 2% of commuters in Cape Town use rail transport and the city’s research shows that low-income families in the city can collectively save R932 million annually, provided the trains run properly.
“For these reasons, we are now instructing our legal team to launch an intergovernmental dispute mediation process. Pursuant to art. 42 of the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act, a mediation committee must be convened ‘promptly’ to determine the terms of the dispute,” says Hill-Lewis.
The city’s ongoing study on the viability of rail transport, which aims to map out the path to rail devolution, has so far found that a functional rail system can support more than 51 000 jobs and add R11 billion to the local economy annually.