Gautrain is milking taxpayers of millions

07 July 2014 - 02:00 By Olebogeng Molatlhwa
The Gautrain. (File photo)
The Gautrain. (File photo)

It is costing taxpayers an average of R84-million a month to keep the Gautrain running.

Taxpayers - including those who do not use the train - will have subsidised its operational expenses to the tune of R1-billion by the end of March.

This revelation was made as motorists buckle under the pressure of increasing petrol costs and the burden of toll fees in Gauteng.

This year's Gautrain "patronage guarantee" - which takes into account the number of passengers using the system, the fares they pay, passengers' origins and destinations, distances they travel and the number of ancillary services such as the buses and station parking they use - has increased by R147-million.

Gauteng residents forked out R861-million last year, or R71-million a month, to cover the cost of running the train. This is up from R831-million in the previous financial year.

This financial year's subsidy works out to R1.008-billion.

Tlago Ramalepa, of the Gautrain Management Agency, said about R2-billion in guarantees had been paid since June 2012.

"This amount must be viewed in the context that it covers multiple costs of the [Bombela] Concession Company besides the day-to-day operational and maintenance costs, replacement costs, servicing of their construction loan and profit [to Bombela] for a 15-year period (the operating period)," Ramalepa said.

When the R27-billion Gautrain project was signed off by the cabinet in 2006, part of the agreement included a provision for a patronage fee that would contribute to covering the service's operating and maintenance costs, and the private sector portion of the capital costs.

It is not known when the Gautrain will become self-sustaining.

"Given that Gautrain is in its growth phase, it is not possible to predict this with certainty although provision was made contractually for a break-even or above break-even situation.

"The fare income is currently substantially above the operational and maintenance costs," said Ramalepa.

The proposed expansion of the Gautrain network could mean an additional financial burden on taxpayers but the Gautrain Management Agency expects the growth of the network to result in increased passenger numbers and a decrease in operational costs.

"The expansion of the system will increase [its use] . and as such the patronage guarantee will reduce," said Ramalepa.

Gauteng DA spokesman on roads and transport Neil Campbell said the party was against the proposed expansion unless it were proved to be necessary and would be cost-effective.

"The problem with the Gautrain is that it is a nice-to-have project. It is a rich persons' thing," he said.

"The Gautrain is gauged [track width] differently to other trains and that means it cannot be integrated with the Passenger Rail Agency of SA [which operates the suburban passenger train service Metrorail]."

Campbell said the DA endorsed the proposed Park Station to Westgate Gautrain link, as well as the expansion of the system to the west of Johannesburg. He said the 100km link between Naledi and Mamelodi should be operated by the Passenger Rail Agency.

The Gautrain Management Agency said daily passenger trips vary between 56000 and 58000 every weekday, peaking at periods at up to 62000 passengers a day.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question last year, former transport minister Ben Martins said Bombela was contractually obliged to supply 64 carriages for the Gautrain in peak periods on weekdays and 32 in off-peak periods.

This would go down to 24 carriages on weekends and public holidays.