‘Let’s get this train rolling’: Mayor writes to Minister Mbalula to propose Working Committee on rail devolution

24 May 2022 in Where We Govern

On Tuesday, 24 May, Executive Mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis wrote to the national Transport Minister, the Hon Fikile Mbalula, to propose the formation of a new Working Committee to be comprised of officials from the Department of Transport, the City, and PRASA.

The Committee would begin the detailed work of rail devolution and ensure close cooperation between the national and city governments on the policy direction outlined in the National Rail Policy White Paper that was gazetted by the Minister this month. It would also enable the two governments to work together to improve rail services in Cape Town, even before devolution occurs.

He commended the Minister and his Department on the White Paper; it is a progressive document that — if implemented carefully and with a people-centric rather than a politician-centric approach — will allow us to fundamentally change track as regards inclusionary and economy-boosting transport in South Africa. It has the potential to turn the story of South African rail from one of declining access, lack of safety, and unreliability to one of steadily improving mobility.

He believes the Minister and I share the vision of a Cape Town where everyone — from the construction worker getting to the building site, to the young schoolgirl attending school across town, to the civil servant returning home after a late night at the office — is able to arrive at any station between the hours of 05h00 and 22h00, catch a train within fifteen minutes and get home safely.

Our Constitution, as well as the National Land Transport Act and National Development Plan, recognises that some functions are best handled by local government. All over the world, as the White Paper acknowledges, it is known that rail is better managed by local governments, where officials understand local needs.

He asked Minister Mbalula to acknowledge that the devolution of a government function is not a “loss” for one sphere of government and a “win” for another, even when different political parties are involved. If urban rail in Cape Town succeeds, it is a victory for every sphere of government and for every South African.

The benefits resulting from a reliable, safe, and affordable rail network in Cape Town will have social, economic, and fiscal pay-offs that will have positive repercussions at a national level. The devolution of this function, it follows, is an act of patriotism that will improve the lives of all, not a narrowly-interested victory for a different political party.

He looks forward to hearing back from the Minister on my proposal and am confident that together, our two governments will lay the tracks for a rail renaissance in South Africa that will see unprecedented mobility, connectivity, and convenience for all.