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Fear inhibiting passenger train use in South Africa

Fear inhibiting passenger train use in South Africa

Many people are scared to use Metrorail, even though they have never used it.

This is according to Pieter Onderwater, who presented ‘Influence Factors for Passenger Train Use’ during the 2017 Southern African Transport Conference and Exhibition (SATC) in Pretoria.

Onderwater’s presentation investigated different influence factors for passenger train use. These factors were clustered into three groups: socio-economic aspects; internal train system aspects, and other transport systems’ aspects.

He believes the response to these influence factors are different for different travel purposes: work / education (peak trips), and social / leisure (mainly off-peak trips).

He explained that train passengers have three budgets to consider: time, money and effort, with the latter budget more difficult to measure.

“Effort relates to how easy it is for train passengers to get onto a passenger rail service. Most of South Africa's public transport systems are not accessible to people with disabilities. And some have to walk three to five kilometres just to find public transport,” he stated.

He said people won't use public transport if they don't know how the system works or are not familiar with the timetables. In addition, the amount of mental effort required to use a public transport service is proportionate to the level of use thereof.

Lower-income ‘captive’ passengers would rather spend money on housing and food than on transport. Therefore, commuter trips are made with the least financial burden; even if it has to take more time or effort, he said.

For ‘Choice Users’, time is a more important budget (“time is money”). This is also indicated by the ‘Value of Time’, which, for higher-income people, is significantly higher than for lower-income people.

Generally, if prices or travel times increase, ridership decreases, he said.

Captive travelers are also very price-sensitive; if train fares rise, they tend to opt for other transport modes such as buses or mini-bus taxis. Social travelers will visit family and friends less frequently when fares increase.

Onderwater said passenger train services very seldom realise time improvements in their services, with trip times and station-to-station times not changing much. The exception is Gautrain, which has decreased train-to-train times from 12 minutes to 10 minutes.

He said train comfort is more important to leisure train travelers than captive users, with seated passengers feeling greater discomfort levels in crowded trains than standing passengers.

Onderwater explained that road tolling is not a major factor influencing passenger train use, due to the high levels of non-compliance.

Onderwater says South Africa could expect 5% passenger rail growth, although this figure is capped because current train services cannot meet the demand.