#UniteBehind launches court battle for Cape Town railway control

12th October 2023 By: News24Wire

Civil society organisation #UniteBehind has launched a court bid to compel the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) to hand over the running and management of the railway system in the metro to the City of Cape Town.  

#UniteBehind filed court papers at the Western Cape High Court, wanting it to assist in remedying what it described as the collapse of commuter rail within the municipality of Cape Town.

The organisation's co-founder and director Zackie Achmat said in his founding affidavit that Prasa failed to conclude a Service Level Plan (SLP) with the City, as it is required to do by virtue of the National Land Transport Act 5 of 2009 (NLTA).

"That failure has prevented, and continues to prevent, the City from being able to comply with its duties to administer local transport efficiently, effectively, and safely. #UniteBehind has made concerted efforts to engage the respondents on the need to conclude an SLP, but to no avail," he said.

Achmat stressed that the current public transport system, in particular the commuter rail service, was not safe, reliable, affordable, efficient, or of sufficient quality.

"The failure of the state to provide a sufficient public transport system, accordingly, amounts to a violation of working class and disabled people's constitutional rights to equality, freedom and security, and dignity, among other rights such as, for example, the right to education when students cannot get to their schools," he said.

The organisation added that the conduct of Prasa showed it was not working in good faith to conclude an SLP and the conduct of both Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga and Prasa in failing to cooperate with the City was unconstitutional. 

"#UniteBehind and the public have lost faith in both Prasa and Chikunga's willingness to comply with their obligations to, at the very least, negotiate the terms of a service level plan in good faith so as not to impede the ability of the City of Cape Town to comply with its constitutional mandate in respect of municipal public transport," the court papers read.

Joseph Mayson, #UniteBehind's legal officer, said during a media briefing on Wednesday that Prasa signing the SLP would be a step in devolving railway powers.

"We are not saying that the City must take over the trains; we are saying allow the City to take over the management of the trains," he said. 

The City has been pushing to take over the management of rail services.

Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis welcomed the court action. 

"Prasa recently did an about-turn and resumed talks with the City after initially refusing to sign a formal service level agreement on the quality and level of passenger rail services they will deliver.

"It is still within Prasa's hands to conclude and sign an SLA with us without the need for a court to compel them to do so," he said.

Hill-Lewis added that the City put a detailed draft SLA to Prasa for consideration.

"Should the litigation proceed, we would welcome the opportunity to air any outstanding issues Prasa may have in concluding an SLA, and we look forward to reviewing the court papers.

"The overall goal is to get passenger rail devolved for the City to run in the shortest possible time, and we will keep pushing for that devolution to happen," the mayor said.