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Gautrain Management Agency chief speaks on extension plans, service enhancements

INCREASING ACCESSIBILITY In addition to extending the Gautrain system to underserved and new areas, the Gauteng Management Agency is also pursuing new discount products

Photo by Creamer Media

GAUTRAIN MANAGEMENT AGENCY CEO TSHEPO KGOBE “A sustainable and capable rail system is the only way to ensure that the province remains competitive”

Photo by Creamer Media's Donna Slater

29th March 2024

By: Tasneem Bulbulia

Senior Contributing Editor Online

     

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The Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) is re-engineering the company for full commercialisation while undertaking extension plans and pursuing enhancements for the Gautrain system, with many of these to be enabled by the appointment of a new concessionaire in 2026.

This was outlined by recently appointed GMA CEO Tshepo Kgobe in an exclusive interview with Mining Weekly & Engineering News.

Full commercialisation will entail the GMA having its own property business, a licensing agency, and a project delivery management company with a consulting and advisory business.

Kgobe emphasises, however, that these endeavours must not derail the Gautrain system’s primary role of providing best practice in terms of railway operations and services.

The process of commercialisation was initiated by Kgobe’s predecessor, William Dachs, and Kgobe, having assumed the role in February, is looking to build on the groundwork laid by Dachs, alongside his team. He intends to leverage his experience of more than 20 years in the railway industry, including several years in consulting, as well as a decade-long stint at the GMA, to do so.

Extensions

The Gautrain project comprises 80 km of rapid rail network, linking key economic areas in Gauteng. The GMA is currently developing plans to extend the network by another 150 km.

The route that was determined for Phase 1 of the proposed extensions, from Marlboro station to Little Falls station through Sandton, Randburg and Cosmo City, was published in May 2022.

Kgobe says much of the initial work for Phase 1 has been completed, with the GMA aiming to be “on the ground” within the next three to five years, but not before undertaking all statutory design and consultation processes with all affected stakeholders.

Work is also under way to enable the determination of the routes from Little Falls towards Roodepoort and Soweto, Cosmo City to Lanseria, as well as Cosmo City to Samrand through Fourways. The process to enable the publishing of the routes for these phases is slated for completion by December.

The demand modelling that was undertaken by the GMA as part of developing the proposed extensions demonstrated the extension from Soweto into Sandton as having the highest demand. This line will also function as the starting point for the agency to extend the rapid rail network further into the south as part of the broader Gauteng provincial government’s endeavours to achieve greater coverage of rapid rail in and around the province, and to connect workers to the province’s special economic zones, which lie outside the urban core.

Implementing Inclusivity

Criticism – such as a lack of inclusivity – has been levelled against the Gautrain.

Kgobe acknowledges that the current fares exclude many sectors of society. Therefore, in addition to extending the system to underserved and new areas, the GMA is also pursuing new discount products in the next four months or so, mainly for scholars, senior citizens, and people living with disabilities. The agency will also be exploring fare products for indigent families.

The GMA also wants to increase its post-travel loyalty programme, whereby commuters who reload their Gautrain travel cards with longer-term fare products can, as a reward, travel free of charge on predetermined days. This requires an adjustment to the software that controls the tickets, with Kgobe emphasising that the agency wants to use these discounts to promote the use of public transport and provide an integrated public transport system in Gauteng.

In this vein, the GMA is also seeking to introduce an integrated discount product for the province, whereby discounts could be offered if commuters use one element of the Gautrain system and then another mode of public transport, such as the bus rapid transit system. This will form part of enabling the Gauteng provincial government’s ambition of integrated fare management across all public transport systems in the province.

This will, however, take some time, as other ticketing systems still need to be brought up to the Gautrain’s level of functionality, Kgobe points out.

Such endeavours are part of provincial efforts to shift transport from road to rail, with modelling indicating that, in 2025, vehicles on Gauteng highways will slow down to 26 km/h on average per trip, and to 10 km/h by 2037 during peak travel times. “It will actually be quicker to run to work by then,” Kgobe quips, noting that such a slowdown will considerably impact on the economy, and needs to be rectified for the province to remain competitive. He argues that a sustainable and capable rail system is the only way to engender this.

The GMA also wants to improve ancillary parts of the system, including the introduction of smaller feeder buses, which are intended to bolster its collaboration with the minibus taxi industry, which has resulted in a partnership through which the latter operates the Gautrain’s Midibus feeder and distribution system.

Moreover, the Gau-Express – the GMA’s e-hailing service – will be available on the Gautrain App and is set to be implemented within the next few months. This is one measure aimed at addressing the safety concerns of commuters arising from the conflict between e-hailing and metered taxis at Gautrain stations.

The agency is also aiming to implement precinct security plans, which would entail additional security, through either the current concessionaire or collaboration with other government departments as part of addressing any general lack of safety in the vicinity of Gautrain stations.

New Concessionaire

The GMA signed the agreement with the current operator, the Bombela Consortium, in 2006. Bombela comprises the Bombela Concession Company (BCC), which designed, part-financed, and built the final design of the Gautrain system, and the Bombela Operating Company, which was contracted by the BCC to maintain and operate the service.

The Gautrain’s assets are owned by the Gauteng government and the current concession agreement ends in March 2026, following a 19.5-year term.

Kgobe says the process to develop a new contract post 2026 actually started in 2022, with the appointment of a transaction adviser to assist the GMA with the undertaking of the prerequisite National Treasury approval processes. Last year, the GMA secured approval from the Gauteng executive council to begin the procurement of a new operator through the issuing of the advertisement for a request for proposals for the Gautrain system after 2026, for a 15-year term.

One of the changes includes moving from a construction-led partner to an operator-led one, as the system has already been built. The new contract aims to improve on aspects that did not work in the previous one, and to build on those that did; it has now gone out to market for feedback, with Kgobe describing the process as a “collaborative effort”.

Responses are expected by August, and the GMA will consolidate the various issues raised by the market while trying to incorporate global best practice in the procurement process moving forward.

Most importantly, the operator will be tasked with operating and managing the current Gautrain system so that it continues to provide a safe and efficient public transport service.

“Ultimately, the service still has to run like clockwork, as it does today,” Kgobe emphasises.

Moreover, the GMA is looking for an operator to invest in the system through innovation and additional technologies to enhance security, customer experience and the system as a whole.

One envisioned technological innovation is the creation of an App that offers a ‘digital mall’, with commuters using the App to book Gautrain tickets, in addition to accessing hotels and car rentals, as well as retail pickup and drop-off services, he adds. Work has started on this, but it will be functional only in 2026, when the new operator is in place.

The new operator will also be responsible for continuing the property development process alluded to earlier. The GMA is setting up its own property development company that will partner with the private sector to allow for development at specific stations, starting with the Centurion station. “This is a big leap forward, where we enable transit-orientated development, with everything contained within the mall-like station,” says Kgobe.

An example of such a development is under way, with the GMA – in partnership with the Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport – having installed new “smart” driver’s licence testing centres at the GMA offices, as well as the Gautrain Midrand and Centurion stations.

The agency is also aiming to establish retail services at stations to enable commuters to buy beverages and snacks, but eating on the train will remain prohibited.

Another considerable change in the new contract will be for the GMA to assume the revenue risk. This means that fares will be collected and managed by the operator, but transferred daily to the GMA, Kgobe explains.

He also outlines an important criterion for the new operator as being its ability to further develop the GMA’s green energy strategy for the entire system, through which the agency endeavours to take many stations off-grid using renewable-energy sources that include harnessing solar photovoltaic energy at most of its parking lots.

Some of the power generated will be used to help generate green hydrogen energy for long-term use.

The GMA is also exploring the potential to adapt its lighting system to be more energy efficient, in addition to having a longer-term passive building strategy by pursuing areas that are self-ventilated to reduce air- conditioning and heating.

“We are seeking somebody who can look at the system with fresh eyes,” Kgobe says, adding that socioeconomic development (SED) will play a key role in the appointment of a new operator, with consideration to be given to those who will offer the most commitments over the duration of the contract.

The SED targets that form part of the current concession contract have been met or exceeded. Accordingly, the SED targets for the next contract have been increased, including localisation targets, which will include minimum ownership requirements at 50% black ownership, and more than 30% women ownership.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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