Disappointed Botswana Railways (BR) passengers are calling for an increase in train fares instead of termination of the passenger train service.
The passengers are calling the decision to halt the transportation of passengers by BR a great inconvenience to the people.
Some are calling it a grave mistake looking at the fact that Easter holidays are around the corner, and road transport already facing a major problem with transporting the number of people traveling to their home villages around these times.
Experience shows that some people eventually prefer to travel with the trains after assessing the long queues that normally dominate road transport during the holiday period.
They foresee a disaster waiting to happen on the roads considering the current road transport system the country has so far.
“They couldn’t have chosen a worse time for this kind of inconvenience. We, as customers, feel very let down; we are going to have to change our normal schedules and adjust to road transport, which we don’t believe is safe,” said a passenger.
Member of Parliament for Tonota South, Pono Moatlhodi, had recently begged parliament to halt the termination, as he said the move was likely to increase the number of road accidents in the country, considering that the road network would be expanded and full of impatient travelers.
The BR officially stopped transporting people on April 1st with its last train pulling out at half past nine at night.
Sunday Standard traveled on the last BR train to Francistown and can reveal, as a matter of fact, that most Batswana who prefer to use the train as a mode of transport are extremely disappointed and angry at the decision taken by BR to terminate its passenger services.
They accuse officials of being insensitive to the plight of those who could even hardly afford the low train fares, let alone the exorbitant bus fares.
Following a report by the Minister of Works and Transport, Johnie Swartz, to the Committee of Supply, BR decided to terminate its passenger trains countrywide.
What became clear to the Sunday Standard was that most Batswana did not fully understand the reasons as to why the train was stopped from operating.
Some claimed to have heard about the termination on radio, a month before the closure was to take place but they did not receive proper explanation as to what the decision was based on.
Some passengers on the train claim that BR hasn’t carried out proper consultations with its customers, most of whom had been loyal customers for a long time.
Most of the passengers boarding the last train in the economy section of the train admitted to learning about the annual P 30 million BR loss, but they still don’t believe the termination was the best course of action at this time.
“If they are saying that they had been making losses for years, then how come they haven’t been involving us in coming up with ways to better the situation? I personally blame the management at BR for things ending up the way they did; whatever happened to consultations?” said a concerned customer.
Another batch of concerned customers said they were not surprised by the losses BR was making, citing how cheap the services offered by the train are.
They claim that although its convenient for many, the conditions within the train were appalling, some of the showers were not working, the seats are not in top notch condition and the first class sections is not even appealing. These, they said, are among the reasons why BR didn’t attract more customers.
“We don’t mind paying higher prices for train services because we find traveling by train better and cheaper than using the road. If these increased fares could only help the management collect enough money to take the train for servicing and updating it so people could become interested in using it again, then we really don’t mind,” they said.
Forty-year-old Motshidisi Ngwato, who was also on board the last train, showed great concern as to what lay ahead for the loyal train customer.
In her monologue, the train dependent mother of four claims that as a cleaner she works hard during the day, and takes off for Francistown on Fridays with the 9:30pm train after work.
She says because of the low income she receives, the train is more affordable and comfortable than using the bus.
A train ticket to Francistown in economy class or second class could range from a mere P20 to P30.
“The thing with traveling with a train is that although the ride might be longer than when using road transport, it’s better because I can bring a blanket to sleep instead of traveling long distance standing and paying higher amounts of money like people on the bus do; we really feel lost by this development,” said Ngwato.
To emphasize the extent to which people feel consultations hadn’t been done properly, an elderly man even accused the president of Botswana for the decision taken by BR.
“It’s Khama; I know it. First, he stopped the bars closing at their normal times, then he increased the alcohol levy, then he started closing the bar counters on trains, now he is stopping the trains. He thinks everyone can afford to fly like him. Our country is going to the dogs,” said the elderly man.
In the second class cabins, another angry batch also blamed management for the current situation.
“That’s the problem with having too many black people in leadership positions, if it was white people, we are pretty sure this wouldn’t be happening.”
While the majority of the users of Botswana Railways are people who are not so well off, they would rather opt for an increase in fares instead of no train.
“My child, I honestly don’t know how we are going to cope without the train. My family and I have been using it for years; it helps us save our little money for more pressing issues, and I m pretty sure they will be charging us for extra luggage on the buses,” said another traveller.