History  & memory Mobility

Taking the train

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On a rain-splattered Thursday, City Views’ writer Alma Viviers ventured into the Southern Suburbs to take the morning train from Plumstead to the Central City with regular commuter Anton Pietersen.

R9 gets you a single MetroPlus ticket at the counter. The 08h02 train rolls into the station right on time and off we go. Sitting across from me at a window, Anton comments on how he often has to stand when the train gets full. He’s quick to point out that this is a relatively new carriage – its walls are relatively free of graffiti.

Anton, who works at New Media Publishing as the art director of décor, design and architecture magazine VISI, has been taking the train regularly for the past 12 years. As we roll along to the reassuring click-clack that is so synonymous with train travel, he explains why rail is his preferred mode of transport for his work commute.

Convenient and relaxing commute

“I first started taking the train in 2000 as a student travelling to tech (CPUT) and have been doing so ever since,” he says. “It is really the most convenient mode of transport for me, so much so that I’ve decided where to live based on how close the house is to a station. Now it is about 8 minutes’ walk from my house to the station and about 5 minutes from the station to my office in Bree Street.”

Although Anton owns a car, he is adamant that he simply can’t handle sitting in peak-hour traffic: “I love driving but I am not a stop-start driver and prefer the open road. There is nothing more frustrating than sitting in traffic; it is not only mindless but people actually lose their minds and tend to drive irresponsibly because they are all stressed and want to get to work.”

Instead of stressing about traffic, Anton – like many of his fellow passengers – likes to take the 30-minute journey to read a book or catch up on emails. He shares the carriage with other regulars, all of whom have their favourite seats.

Cape Town Station forecourt, photo by Bruce Sutherland (c)City of Cape Town

64 983 people use Metrorail to get into town each day

Despite these pros, Anton is concerned by the hike in ticket prices: In just one year, tickets prices have increased from R128 to R200, and although taking the train is still cheaper than taking a taxi or driving, he is worried that rail is becoming unaffordable for the broad spectrum of users.

Delays are also a reality and can be disruptive: “Maintenance is so important. If Metrorail don’t ensure upkeep, delays become inevitable. Rail is integral to thousands of people who take the train to work daily. Strikes can be hard on business, but transport delays can disrupt business just as much. An unfortunate consequence of this is that train commuters are often branded as being unreliable in the workplace and employers have a negative association with them.”

Is safety on the trains an issue? “I have never had a bad experience, although I generally only travel in peak hours and take my car or get a lift when I know that I am going to work late. I think you’ll probably have different experiences depending on which line you travel on as well as whether you are travelling in MetroPlus (first class) or normal Metro (third class).”

The bell signalling our arrival at the Cape Town Station sounds and we pour out on the platform. Striding through the recently upgraded concourse, Anton remarks: “When Metrorail is on song it is the most reliable and safe transport for me.”

Did you know?

  • On the day of the interview, a car left the Plumstead station at the same time as the train, travelling via the M3: While the train rolled into the station 30 minutes after departure, the trip by car took an hour.
  • FindMyWay.mobi is a mobile application that allows you to get from point A to point B using various public transport options. It shows the real-time status of the Metrorail, MyCiTi, Jammie Shuttles and Golden Arrow public transport services, to help you plan your trip better.
  • GoMetro is a mobisite where you can get information on timetables, announcements, updates and information on Metrorail services. You’ll need to register to use the service. You can also send Metrorail your feedback on Facebook (via the GoMetro app) and Twitter (@go_metro) or call the transport information centre on 0800 65 64 63 toll free.
  • According to the 2012 City of Cape Town Transport Survey, 64 983 people use Metrorail as their primary mode of transport into the Central City on a daily basis.
  • Cities that are famous for their rail transport include London for its underground, Johannesburg for the Gautrain and Japan for its speedy Shinkansen bullet trains.
  • A local blogger recently captured a moment of light relief on the train: Go to www.projectjennifer.wordpress.com and watch this video: The Metrorail shuffle.

Hop-on and hop-off tickets

Special MetroPlus train tickets or tourist rail passes cost R30 for a one-day and R50 for a two-day pass, and allow unlimited train trips between Cape Town and Simon’s Town for the day of validity. Tickets are valid between 08h30 and 16h00 and can be purchased at any participating stations.

City Views October 2012 coverThis article first appeared in the October 2012 issue of City Views: Cape Town as a mobile city

Text by Alma Viviers. Main photo of Anton Pietersen by Lisa Burnell. Cape Town Station forecourt image is by Bruce Sutherland of the City of Cape Town.

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