On 16 August 2022, the Gauteng Legislature's Portfolio Committee ("the Committee") on Roads and Transport convened to discuss the viability of the proposed expansion of the Gautrain network. Since becoming operational in August 2011, the Gautrain has become a popular mode of transport for many middle-class Gauteng inhabitants, with a total of 10 stations and 80km of track.
The proposed expansion of the Gautrain was however not met with the expected enthusiasm, but rather criticised by the Committee after a Focus Intervention Study was conducted to establish how the proposed expansion would influence and address the public transport demands, needs and challenges, with specific reference to the continuous increase in traffic in the Gauteng province.
The proposed expansion of the network would result in a total of 148km of additional track and 19 additional stations, with the first phase of the expansion amounting to an additional 34km of track to be constructed. The expansion is set to have stations in Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Ekurhuleni.
CEO of the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA), Mr Dachs, explained to the Committee, that not only will the envisioned expansion assist in minimising the traffic congestion, but it will also ensure an economic benefit for Gauteng, and therefore indirectly the country.
The Committee was however not particularly impressed by the number of additional stations, the linking of three cities in Gauteng, nor the additional 148km of track that will be constructed. The Committee, without wavering, expressed the view that the original Gautrain project failed to achieve that which Mr Dachs pointed out will be achieved with the expansion project, and even went as far as to label it a "failed project" and "a waste of government expenditure". The Committee motivated this view by highlighting factors such as the poor placement of the current stations, the exorbitant fees charged, the lack of proper supporting transport services, and the failure of the project to cater to the less fortunate.
One of the biggest criticisms levelled by the Committee was the costs associated with using the Gautrain as a mode of transport, which not only relates the fare itself, but also the associated travel expenses to get to your final destination as well as the parking rates. The Committee expressed the concern that, in general, driving your own vehicle amounts to the same expense, or even slightly less, than utilising the Gautrain, and as such the Committee suggested that the financial expenditure can be better utilised to upgrade and maintain our roads infrastructure, rather than to approve another white elephant.
Though some might say that the Committee's criticism levelled against the proposed Gautrain expansion project is harsh, we need to be reminded of the purpose of the Committee which is to scrutinise and review budgeted initiatives of the Department, such as this one, to ensure "sustainable service delivery" and to curb wasteful expenditure. Clearly, the Committee lived out its purpose on Tuesday by asking difficult, but relevant questions, which need some serious attention and consideration before this project is given the go-ahead.
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