Success of business train indicates a yearning for public-transport alternative

27th June 2008 By: Irma Venter - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Metrorail’s new business express train between Johannesburg and Pretoria has already surpassed the passenger numbers the South African Rail Commuter Corporation (SARCC) envisaged when the service rolled out in May, despite some initial growing pains.

Lucky Montana, CEO of the SARCC, which incorporates Metrorail, says the rail service did “not anticipate the kind of interest we have seen”.

“We said we want to break even within six months, but we are already exceeding those numbers.”

Montana ascribes the interest from commuters in Metrorail’s business express to increasing traffic congestion, as well as rapidly rising fuel costs.

“You can see the South African public yearns for good, safe and reliable public transport.”

The business express offers free refreshments, free newspapers, laptop workstations with power points, as well as Wi-Fi Internet access.

Stewards and stewardesses are available in each coach.

The ticket fee includes dedicated, secure covered parking at the stations, and a dedicated bus service from Johannesburg station to the Rosebank and Sandton business districts.

A monthly ticket costs R750.

“The allocated parking is full; we now have to find additional parking for the express,” notes Montana.

The train, with a capacity of about 500 passengers, currently runs only during peak periods, departing from Pretoria at 06:15, and arriving in Johannesburg at 07:15. The trains stops at Kempton Park and Centurion stations and then returns to Pretoria at 07:30.

In the afternoons, the service operates from Pretoria to Johannesburg and back, arriving in Pretoria at 18:30.

Metrorail has a similar service available from Soweto to Johannesburg.

Metrorail is not alone in its ‘predicament’ of popularity, though.

Public transport worldwide has seen increasing commuter numbers as fuel costs continue to soar.

According to news agency AFP, New York’s subway system, previously at capa-city with five-million passengers a day, has seen passenger numbers increase 5% since January.

Washington’s 32-year-old metro carried nearly 800 000 passengers a day in the past few months despite hefty fare increases, and management is in the process of drawing up an emergency plan to cope with a predicted tidal wave of passengers if petrol reaches $5 a gallon (R10 a litre).

US petrol prices are currently at about $4 a gallon.

Official statistics show that in March 2008, the total distance driven by Americans dropped for the first time in 30 years.