Gautrain expansion a disastrous financial decision

The determination of the expansion route for the Gautrain by Gauteng MEC for Roads and Transport, Mr Jacob Mamabolo, disregards factual evidence opposing such a move, and underscores the poor financial decision to allocate funds to a failing system. The Automobile Association (AA) says publication of the route determination for Phase 1 of the proposed Gauteng Rapid Rail Integrated Network (GRRIN) project – Gautrain – must be rejected and urges national government to halt any discussions regarding the funding of such expansions.

The determination of the route starts the process of defining a rail reserve for a future railway in Gauteng and, as such, is the first step towards expansion of the existing Gautrain network.

“In August last year we made a detailed submission outlining our concerns about the expansion of Gautrain. We noted then, as we do again now, that any expansion of Gautrain perpetuates a system which caters for a minority of citizens, all the while costing Gauteng taxpayers billions of Rands to prop up through the so-called Patronage Guarantee which compensates the system for low ridership levels,” the AA says.

The Association says when considering the serious economic challenges in South Africa, the fact that taxpayer money is effectively being used to compensate a private entity for non-performance is outrageous and deeply disturbing. It also notes that it makes a mockery of government’s stated goal of ensuring fiscal responsibility.

It notes, for instance, that in April the Minister of Finance, Mr Enoch Godongwana, remarked at a function in the Eastern Cape that, “…The fiscal sustainability agenda also puts a responsibility on public officials to spend public money in a responsible and prudent manner.” The Association contends that spending billions of Rands on a system that caters for a minority, and which pays vast amounts of public money to a private entity, is neither responsible nor prudent.

In 2021 the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA), through funding from the Gauteng Provincial Government, paid the Bombela Concession Company (a privately-owned entity) a Patronage Guarantee of R2,014bn. In 2020, the Patronage Guarantee paid to Bombela was R1,9bn. Since 2013, Gauteng taxpayers have funded the shortfall of riders on the Gautrain by close on R13bn.

“And, because of the built-in insurance for poor performance through the Patronage Guarantee, less money is available in Gauteng for transport projects which can cater for the majority of citizens who do not have access to the Gautrain.

“The fact remains that the Gautrain serves people who already have transport options – the large parking infrastructure at Gautrain stations attests to this. This, along with a raft of other issues, is detailed in the submission we made last year. Sadly, we have received no feedback on our concerns, and it appears the MEC has disregarded the input of civil society on a matter which has huge financial implications for all citizens of the province,” says the Association.

The AA says it will write to the Ministers of Finance and Transport, as well as to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance and the Portfolio Committee on Transport to seek clarity on the planned funding for the extensions. The Association says among other issues it would like clarity on the process followed by the MEC in evaluating submissions such as those by the AA.

“There is no justifiable reason why the Gautrain service should be extended, and we noted such in our submission. We have had no formal feedback to our concerns, and it is perhaps now time that national government and parliament hold the Gauteng Provincial Government, the MEC and the GMA accountable for spending billions of Rands of taxpayer money on what it is, essentially, a vanity project of the province and not a sustainable public transport solution,” concludes the AA.