I have recently relocated to Cape Town from Namibia. I used to live in South Africa more than ten years ago. Back then, I was not a fan of trains simply because I used to think that trains are a very slow mode of transport. Having lived in Japan, where trains are part and parcel of daily life, for almost five years, those views vanished. 

In 2015, when I visited Pretoria for some research collaboration at Tshwane University of Technology, I made sure that I rode the Gautrain from Pretoria to Johannesburg. I enjoyed it. It was fun. It is more or less the same as a standard Tokyo train service. 

Now that I am back in South Africa for a long term stay, I was tempted to take a train from Mbwekweni to Bellville in the Western Cape. I was shocked to see that people were boarding the train without tickets.

Of course, I did not expect to see electronic systems for payment and access to the trains. But I, at least, expected to see the authorities guarding the entrances to the station and ensuring that no one enters without paying. There was absolutely no official; everyone boarded and alighted the train at all the stations all the way to Bellville for free.

I, initially, thought that the Mbekweni-Bellville case was an isolated one. But I experienced the same a few days later, when I took a train from Bellville to Kuilsriver. One dude that I met on these trains told me that the situation is worse on the Khayelitsha trains. Many people are riding these trains for free that side. Considering the number of people that a train carries, Prasa is clearly losing a lot of money.

Usually, when people are given free service, care is less or non-existent. This could be one of the reasons why there is so much litter on some of these trains and train stations. Some people have even pasted abortion adverts on some trains/train stations. There is graffiti on some trains.

The damage to infrastructure is gradual, but one day, things may come to a complete halt. The millions that Prasa is losing are, therefore, not just in the money that they are losing because of free riders. It is also in the damage that some of these carefree riders exert on the infrastructure.

Prasa has good infrastructure in this Cape Town area, which can be used a as springboard for further developments. Prasa must ensure that this infrastructure is properly cared for and maintained. No one should be allowed in these stations without a receipt.

All passengers that board their trains must pay before they even enter the stations. This may require them to employ more people to man these stations. The cost of doing so cannot be compared to the losses that they are incurring now.