South Africa has continued to blaze the trail in infrastructural development, the African economy making it an investment hub in the African sub region.
Transportation plays a major role in the development of any economy, It is no longer about just getting from point A to point B, but getting there on time and with minimal cost.
The public transport system faced an alarming decay, especially the rail transport system. Therefore the need to re-strategize and re-evaluate the need for speed.
In 2009 that need was tackled through the formation of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). The merger of the operations, personnel and assets of the South African Rail Commuter Corporation, Metrorail, long-distance rail service (ShosholozaMeyl),Intersite Property Management Services and the long distance bus company Autopax (comprising of Translux and City to City buses).
The institutional bodies that governed the passenger rail and public transport system in the past did not promote efficiency little or no innovation or accountability. Clarifications of individual roles each of these bodies had to be worked out as there was a confusion in the system. Due to the integrating these entities, the roles of Intersite were redefined in order to support to pave the way for a more robust, efficient and accountable service which is in line with PRASA’s new strategic direction.
A major factor that affected the system was funding, which is the story for most highly driven public infrastructures such as the rail system. The next step to curb this dysfunction by the government was to proffer a way to find sustainable funding solutions as part of its efforts to deal with the steady decline in commuter rail services and support broader Government infrastructural investments in public transport.
The National Rail Plan has called for funding and investment for passenger rail over the next ten years. PRASA, which is now at the forefront of government efforts to transform the public transportation system in South Africa, is developing new ways to integrate inter-model facilities and services into public transport solutions that optimize the performance of the whole transport system.
The merger could not have come at a better time as the country was hosting the world’s biggest sporting event in football, The 2010 FIFA World Cup, an efficient transport system had to be in place to ensure the successful hosting of the mundial. It had to address the lackluster performance of the passenger rail service, and give investors reason to make worthy investments in the sector.
Beyond all this, it was also deemed necessary to provide a lasting solution to South Africans and their need to proper and effective transportation system.
The Investment Trail
With the Metrorail responsible for transporting over 2.2 million passengers daily and the country’s biggest station (Park) moving over 160,000 passengers every day, PRASA recognized the urgency to update their old and outdated system and assets. The current plan is to modernize both the stations and the signaling equipment, and with their 20-year investment outlook, PRASA hopes to invest 150 billion rand in order to buy new trains and locomotives. According to the Group Executive of Strategic Assets Development, Piet Sebola, the PRASA team hopes to create something special for all South Africans to be proud of, a rail-system that is safe and efficient, with a modernized signaling system to give better capacity and safety for all passengers.
Another area where PRASA hopes to improve its railways is in the connectivity side of things, with a fragmented rail network, the team is looking to invest in better connectivity within their 20-year investment outlook. PRASA is now finalizing a feasibility study for the Moloto Rail Corridor which consists of 118 km of track, which will connect three provinces (Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo); this is a large project that is set to better the lives of many South Africans.
The Commuters Choice
One of the main goals of PRASA is to modernize their stations, by giving them a totally new look and feel for their customers, who won’t see public transport as just a means to an end but a well-rounded shopping and dining experience as well. “It is not good enough anymore to solely provide customers with just a modern train, we want the best for them, and we want to give them the best experience possible”, says Sebola.
In the next three years, PRASA is expected to invest 3 billion Rand to re-vamp some of its bigger stations to include more dining options, as well as full commercial and retail centers that are accessible to customers.
In Good Hands
When it comes to hiring at PRASA, the team looks for high-performance individuals who would understand the motives and objectives in such an organization. “Introducing a new business into an existing one, which is based on 1950’s technologies that is soon to be updated, means we not only want but need energetic, modern day workers who have the talent to push themselves in order to achieve the best”, says Sebola.
With over 16,000 employees, PRASA is continuously investing and developing the skills of their workers, because they understand that it’s the employees of PRASA who will push the organization to unprecedented new heights. When it comes to choosing these individuals, Sebola maintains that one of the best-regarded qualities is integrity and honesty. “We look for people who will put their customer first, have high-levels of respect both for passengers and for colleagues and individuals who are willing to work hard and smart.
The Road Ahead
PRASA’s objective is to offer a service of excellence that is safe and secure and serve the people that use the public railway systems. There is a growing consensus that things can no longer be done as they have in the past, there is a need for change, that is being led by PRASA.
The bold step by the Government with their creation of PRASA in an effort to broaden the strategic leverage that can be deployed in support of the government’s transport objectives. Simply put, PRASA is about mobility, convenience and accessibility. The movement of people while providing them access to real opportunities to help better their lives, in conjunction with PRASA’s financial objectives, the union of the two seems to be a recipe for success.