Koketso Moeti
Koketso Moeti

Rail services still treat us like cattle

Dear Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa,

I don’t usually write open letters and have tried to engage you in more direct ways. I was one of the groups kept back by security at your Pretoria Station not too long ago and I am a regular visitor at your customer care booth at Park Station. But seeing how that hasn’t worked I decided to write this to you and share with you why you need to do something about your service.

I am an ordinary young woman, a mother of two and a train commuter, travelling regularly between Pretoria and Johannesburg. When working well, which is happening less and less lately, travelling by rail is not only a convenient method of getting around but also a cost-efficient one. Apart from this, on the train one gets to experience the often unspoken side of South Africa. Young men giving elderly women their seats, rigorous debating of current affairs, the celebrations of seemingly small victories such as getting a job, a child achieving something and more.

Metrorail and Shosholoza Meyl merged and formed the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), after which a serious marketing campaign got under way. As great as the broadcast ads were, I found myself deeply perplexed about the amount of effort going into a marketing campaign when the quality of your service continues to deteriorate. In the last few months I have written twice about this on this very platform. More recently though, a train I was on got stuck somewhere after Fountains Station. We were there for quite a while, when another train came to a stop on the rail-line right next to us. Because the doors facing us were opened, most assumed that we were meant to jump to the other train even though no such message was communicated to us. Upon seeing people go, I joined in, despite my fear about the other train moving just as I jumped. A man on the other side caught my arm and I was relieved to find myself safely on the other train.

But looking back, I found a woman who could not jump had gotten off the train we were on and was being pulled up. Another woman whose skirt made it impossible to jump had tucked it into her panty to make the jump, something which greatly disturbed me. The lady was also quite clearly embarrassed, embarrassed for something not of her making. But that’s what you do Prasa — force us to give up our dignity just to get where we are going. And as usual, what followed on the train were discussions about how women must wear pants when using the train, something which completely disregards that we are paying customers and shouldn’t have to dress to accommodate your poor service. Not to mention that some women wear skirts for religious and/or cultural reasons or even because it is what they want to wear, making this expectation even more unfair.

A few weeks ago, a train at the Pretoria Station never arrived. Once again, no announcements were made. Those who could left to catch taxis leaving the rest of us waiting for more than three hours. I arrived home well after 10pm, which means not only did commuters lose valuable time but were also put into a situation of vulnerability. I could give many other examples of what has been recently happening, but I think you catch my drift. Every time I raise these issues I find myself being told about Prasa’s 2015 plans. But the problem with this is 2015 is over a year away. Are we expected to just be content with the bad service you give till then? Should people continue to lose their jobs for late-coming till then? Should people continue to have to give up their jobs because that’s the only transport they can afford, which gets them to workplaces with early hours like the airport?

I am part of a community initiative called Operation: ROOIGROND, back home in Mahikeng. Over the last few months we have been working on upgrading the Early Learning Centre with outdoor material. Transporting things like jungle gyms from Gauteng to there isn’t cheap and every cent I can save is being kept for that. You may be wondering what this has to do with you, everything, because the poor service given to me affects my ability to do this. It means losing out on hours at work and thus payment, it means putting my job at risk and it also slows down the savings when I need to use alternative transport. The point I’m trying to make is that your poor service does not only affect us who use your services, but our families, our finances and our ability to get involved in many things. It delays progress on so many levels.

Anyway, I hope this letter will remind you that you are not herding cattle, we are people, human beings who like all others should be treated with dignity and respect.

Yours faithfully,

A fed-up train commuter

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