The Gauteng government will pay an estimated R280-million to Gautrain operator, the Bombela Concession Company, for the financial year ending March 31, as the company's income from the rapid-rail service will not reach the levels projected by the provincial government.
The money is payable according to an agreement between government and Bombela regarding Gautrain patronage levels, which have not yet reached the numbers anticipated by government, owing to uncertainty around the roll-out of an electronic tolling system on Gauteng’s freeways, and the delay in the opening of the last leg of the 80 km Gautrain route.
The R27-billion Gautrain project is a public-private partnership.
“Any payment for the new financial year will depend on whether the province’s freeways are going to be tolled, and also on what passenger numbers the final, 8-km Rosebank to Park station link can add to the system,” says Gautrain Management Agency CEO Jack van der Merwe.
He expects the Rosebank-Park link to open in April, following work to stop water ingress into the tunnel, which would be seven months later than the August 2011 start of operations on the Pretoria–Johannesburg link, currently terminating at Rosebank station.
The Gautrain system currently carries 34 000 train passengers a day, and 12 000 bus passengers.
The aim was for more than 100 000 train passengers a day this year, but for a fully operational 80 km link, operating against the backdrop of a tolled freeway system.
“These numbers could still pick up. We are just emerging from the holiday period now,” says Van der Merwe.
He also emphasises that any delay in the implementation of tolling on the Gauteng freeways will have an impact on current and future Gautrain numbers.
“We planned and built the Gautrain on the understanding that the roads would remain as they were when we conceived the project many years ago – congested, and without any improvement to the infrastructure. But, now we have upgraded roads that may not be tolled,” says Van der Merwe.
“Where congestion was the original motivation for people to take the Gautrain, it then became the imminent implementation of a toll system. With both of these factors now absent, we would have to see what the impact will be on the Gautrain. Maybe we would have to pay the ridership guarantee to Bombela for a longer period than anticipated.”
However, Van der Merwe also notes the upgraded freeways have not necessarily solved all of Gauteng’s traffic woes.
“Maybe we have simply shifted the congestion from Allandale to Buccleuch, where six lanes become four, and then three. The M1 into the city has not been upgraded.”
Van der Merwe says that a decision on the tolling – or not – of the Gauteng freeways would have to be made within the next month, for the sake of providing certainty to financial markets, which are already mulling downgrading South Africa’s financial rating, as well as the Gautrain.