Bayanda Mzoneli

About Bayanda Mzoneli

Bayanda Mzoneli is a public servant. He writes in his personal capacity.

My job requires that I do a bit of traveling, especially between Pretoria and Cape Town. I have offices in both towns and spend 40% of the time in each.

As an aspirant communist, I was opposed to the Gautrain since the idea came about when Mr Sam Shilowa was Premier of Gauteng. Yes, he was once a Premier of the province. Don’t let your memory of that be erased by his disputed Presidency of his party.

I believed then, like my friend, Themba, still believes now, that the Gautrain is meant to solve problems of a particular stratum in society other than the working-class. This is in conflict Themba’s tools of analysis that suggest that the government, specifically a people’s democratic one, should prioritize its efforts towards the working-class.

Before you dismiss that argument as unsubstantiated by fact or scientific research, let share what Themba says to substantiate it with a hypothesis and a semblance of fact.

In March 2012 prices, the single trip from Hatfield, Pretoria to OR Tambo in Kempton Park costs R125. Themba’s hypothesis is that a person in Tembisa who works in Pretoria could make a round trip from OR Tambo to Hatfield if the Gautrain were meant for him. However, Themba suspects the daily wages of the Tembisa guy amounts to only half, or less, of the return fare which is R250. If you think a person who is from Tembisa and works in Pretoria should relocate instead of commuting daily, then you agree even more with Themba’s point that the Gautrain was not meant for him. This is the hypothesis part of substantiating Themba’s opposition to the Gautrain.

The semblance of fact is that Themba read, in a newspaper recently, that the Gauteng government pays for the empty seats in the Gautrain if the train can’t reach certain numbers of passengers, which it hasn’t reached since it started its operations. Yes, the guy from Tembisa pays through his taxes for the train he didn’t take. This has something to do with that it was one of the terms of the contract for the construction of the Gautrain. Themba says if you google hard, or rather smart, enough you will even find the amount of the millions of rands that has been paid so far for the empty seats in the Gautrain. It is an instance of the poor subsidizing the reach with the help of government, so Themba says.

Be that as it may, due to the rising price of petrol and the imminent e-robbery e-tolls, I have decided to reconsider my boycott of the Gautrain.

But first I need to do the Math in order to arrive at a conclusion of whether or not taking the Gautrain to the OR Tambo Airport is really cheaper than having Mrs M drop me when I leave and fetch me on my return. Below, I am going to use the March 2012 prices mostly because this when I am writing this text. And obviously we use the Inland Petrol Price which is slightly higher than at the coast.

Since I stay in Montana, Mrs M insisted that when I make calculations for using the Gautrain, I should include that she will still have to drop me the Hatfield train station. I comply.

Using Google Maps, the exact trip from the gate in the complex I stay in at Montana to the Domestic Departure Terminals at OR Tambo Airport is 61km. The onboard computer on the 2011 BMW 320i Manual suggests that the average consumption of petrol in the vehicle is 9.6l/100km. The petrol price as at 05 March 2012 is R10.59. Let us now do the Math;

First let us take out, how many litres of petrol am I using for each kilometre;

9.6l / 100km = 0.096l

Now let us calculate how many litres are used in the 61km from Montana to OR Tambo airport;

0.096l * 61km = 5.86l

Next, we calculate how much the 5.86l to the airport costs me;

5.86l * R10.59 = R62.06

But that is just single trip for Mrs M to drop me at the airport, while she still has to go back to Montana meaning we multiply that by two;

R62.06 * 2 = R124.12

There we have it. The cost of getting me from Montana to the airport by car is R124.12.

Before we proceed to the train costs, let us be mindful that there are hidden costs such as the time the trip takes by car, the carbon emissions, the depreciation of the value of the car due to mileage, the tyres, brake pads and other car parts that suffer the wear and tear of the 122km round trip of dropping me at the airport. If you like, we can add the risk of involvement in a car accident as a hidden cost born by insurance costs and so on.

As I said earlier, the Gautrain fare for a single trip from Hatfield to OR Tambo is R125. However, Mrs M said I should also include the cost of dropping me at the Gautrain station.

According to Google Maps, the trip from the gate in the complex I stay in at Montana to the Hatfield Gautrain Station is 15.55km.

We already how many litres do we need for each kilometer, meaning for the trip to the station we will need;

15.55km * 0.096l = 1.5l

And the 1.5l costs;

1.5l * R10.59 = R15.86

But Mrs M has to go back to Montana after dropping me at the train station, so we multiply by two to accommodate that trip;

R15.86 * 2 = R31.72

Finally we need to add the cost of dropping me at the station to the cost of the train fare;

R31.72 + R125 = R156.72

So there you have it. The total, immediate, monetary costs of getting me to the airport for departure are R124.12 by car and R156.72 by Gautrain. Meaning I save R32.60 for using a car instead of the Gautrain.

Indeed, the train will also have its hidden costs in that it uses electricity, which some of it is generated via coal power stations that have emissions.

After making my calculations, I decided to get the help of a qualified Geologist named Chris. I asked Chris to do similar calculations so I can be sure that I used the right formula.

Chris got R124.03 for a trip by car and R156.52 for a trip by Gautrain. Therefore his conclusion was that if I use car instead of a train I would save R32.49.

After a brief comparing of calculation is became apparent that the 11 cents difference in our calculation is occasioned by that he use 3 decimal places in most of his calculations and 2 decimal places for currency whereas I used 2 decimal places in most calculations and 2 decimal places for currency with the exception of the first calculation above where I used 3 decimal places. But a difference of 11 cents is negligible. The aim of getting Chris to do the Math was to corroborate my calculations and that seems to have been done sufficiently.

Clearly the use of the train is not cost effective in monetary terms, but what about the time savings? Time is important when travelling to the airport because of the risk of missing a flight if you don’t get the on time.

On average, driving at average speeds of 120km/h, in off-peak traffic at about 19:00 weekdays, it takes about 38 minutes from the gate at my complex in Montana to the Departure Terminals at OR Tambo airport. Meaning I get to the airport at 19:38, before the closure of check-in at 20:20 for the 21:00 flight to Cape Town.

I haven’t used the Gautrain to know with absolute certainty what time it would take from Hatfield to OR Tambo airport. However, I have used the table of train trips available on the Gautrain website to do the calculations.

At this point, I need to mention that Gautrain recommends that people travelling from Hatfield to OR Tambo airport should connect at the Marlboro train station at Midrand.

Calculating backwards, the last train to arrive before closure of check-in time at 20:20 at OR Tambo airport arrives at 20:04 from Marlboro. It departs Marlboro at about 19:54, meaning I should arrive from Hatfield before 19:54 to make it on time for the connection. The train that arrives in Marlboro in time for the 19:54 connection, arrives at 19:45, having departed Hatfield at 19:16. To be at Hatfield Gautrain Station on time to take the 19:16 train to Marlboro, I would have to depart the gate at my complex in Montana at 18:40. That estimate factors in the traffic lights and the entering the train platforms. Meaning the trip is from 18:40 to 20:04 which is 84 minutes.

Therefore driving by car from Montana to OR Tambo airport saves me 46 minutes.

Note that in the time calculations, unlike in the monetary calculations, I have deliberately ignored the time Mrs M drives back to Montana after dropping me at the airport or train station.

I thought about writing this article before making calculations. I had assumed that using a Gautrain will look cheaper than driving a car to the airport. Though I am not surprised by my findings, I am still disappointed. It seems taking the Gautrain is just as expensive as using a car if not more and here I was thinking it is better.

I accept that the result maybe different if I take earlier flights. Having to drive to the airport during peak hours in heavy traffic could take longer than taking the Gautrain.

The R32 savings for using a car instead of a train may also disappear within a few months, as the petrol price increases to effect the levies introduced in this year’s Budget Speech and as the oil prices increases due to the tension building up between Israel and Iran. There is also e-tags that may or may not come into effect in about a month. After all this happens, the difference will be negligible, though time would remain a factor.

I think will use the Gautrain and the car interchangeably depending on the trip times and the respective convenience, particularly when taking a morning flight or arriving during peak times. But I will use them knowing full well what it costs me to travel between Montana and OR Tambo Airport.

Footnote: I have used the SI units in my calculations in a correct format without the trailing “s” denoting plural that modern non-scientific text tend to use lately.

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