All that Glitters is not Gold

I was listening to the news report on the way into work this morning and there was mention of a second disruption to services on the Gautrain in the space of a week. On Monday, there was an ‘illegal’ bus driver’s strike related to (no prizes for correct guesses) – wages. The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU)….catchy nametag – actually stepped forward to condemn the strike by the Mega Express bus drivers who are contracted to the operate the Gautrain’s bus links.

Considering that the first phase of the commercial train service has been operating for little over a year, the Gautrain operator should think about terminating the contract of Mega Express (with an agreed notice period) whilst advertising for another operator. The strike must go against the previously agreed contract conditions? Obviously wage negotiations had taken place when the company was appointed to operate the bus service prior to the opening of the rail service and everyone was happy at the time. I cannot believe that in the space of a year things would be SO bad that this would warrant a strike?

News articles following the strike mention that the drivers have agreed to resume work whilst ‘discussions with their employer continue’. Another reason to seek another bus operator! Surely if the strike has been termed ‘illegal’ by the union, discussions shouldn’t even be on the cards. Public services cannot continue to be held to ransom by workers without consequence, as this sets a precedent for other workers’ unions to throw their toys out of the cot.

The Gautrain is a revolutionary leap forward when it comes to public transport in South Africa. Sure, there are the taxis and buses which are in place to get the masses around, but from what I gather this is a bit of a cowboy operation – efficient in its own way, but still in the minor leagues when it comes to an established and user friendly ‘public transport’ system which I’d be willing to give up my car for. When I first came to South Africa in 2008, the Gautrain project was one of ‘the’ major projects which regularly made the news headlines and the first phase from the OR Tambo International to Sandton implemented in time for World Cup visitor use.

If you visit the Gautrain website, it is shiny, new and easy to navigate, providing the much needed front-end to represent the rail service. The fare structure and operation would have no trouble integrating into any European city and the service itself is one which South Africans should be proud of and rally behind. For those wanting an alternative to sitting in traffic on the N1 every morning from Pretoria to Johannesburg, the alternative has arrived with the recent opening of the second phase between the two cities.

The second news article now takes the cake. Thieves have managed to disrupt train services between Pretoria, Hatfield and Centurion today by stealing a cable from a substation and the bus service (operated by drivers who were previously on an illegal strike) are now running additional services to support the Gautrain service whilst the cable is replaced! What’s the bet that this will be used as leverage for a wage hike or further, this time legal, strike action?

As I said, South Africans should be proud of this new service and yet they choose to undermine it and provide stories for the world to laugh at.

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