I take the Gautrain every weekday. It’s convenient, it saves me from traffic, and time/price-wise it works out very well. It almost sounds like I think the Gautrain is perfect, but that’s what this post is about. The Gautrain has some huge issues and I’m tired of no one doing anything about them.
Hurry up and stand
When the Gautrain first started, people may not have believed in its effectiveness. That, however, has definitely changed.
When I started using it in December, there were days on the early morning trains (around 7), that not everyone getting on at Centurion station could find a seat. By the time we got to Midrand, there was usually only standing room left. This has changed dramatically.
On the trains that arrive at Centurion at 06h52, 07h04, and 07h16, there are little to no seats left. Passengers cramp in in the entry- and walkways. This would be bearable if the air conditioning was properly pumping in fresh air by the ton, but some days it’s not, which means that the only fresh air coming in comes from when the doors open at stations.
This is a simple problem to solve: there should be one or two more 8-car trains for the peak morning shifts. People would adapt their morning routines if they needed to which would then relieve the pressure on the smaller trains.
And for the love of Tau, put the air conditioning on.
[UPDATE] The Gautrain has released a new schedule that will take effect from 22 March 2012. I plan on testing it out and will report back.
On buying and using credit
The Gautrain has a few different ways for you to purchase credit.
First is the regular ol’ PAYG (Pay As You Go). You put money on your card and an amount gets taken off for every trip.
Next are the 7- and 35-day passes, which give you a certain amount of trips to use over the specified time period between two predefined stations. The 7-day pass gives you 10 single trips, while the 35-day pass gives you 44 single trips. While these sound like arbitrary numbers, they match up with the number of trips needed in a full work-week or work-month respectively, which is fairly clever. The benefit of this over PAYG is that there is a 10% and 20% discount for the 7-day and 35-day pass respectively.
The first problem is that there is no way to reclaim your money for unused trips or the unused trips themselves on the 7- and 35-day passes. Once you’ve paid, you have to use it or lose it. To me, this sounds downright criminal.
You have a limited amount of trips to be used within specific start- and endpoints, then they limit the use of those trips to a specific time period, and it’s impossible to reclaim or refund unused trips.
Writing this out makes it seem very similar to Internet caps in South Africa. You buy a certain amount of gigabytes that you have until the end of the month, and they don’t roll over to the next month. Except I can go to any site on the Internet – I’m not limited to only using Hotmail. Also, if at the end of the month I realise that I have a load of cap left, I can go wacko with my downloads. Riding the Gautrain from one station to the other for a whole day is pretty much a complete waste of time and space.
The solution you ask?
Well, they could start by limiting it less – perhaps remove the “valid duration” limitation. Failing that, they can at least make it easy to reclaim unused trips (money can be reclaimed, though it is a little convoluted). Once that’s done, the Gautrain should consider introducing a flat rate for the X-day passes and also think about an “uncapped” product of sorts (for those who love the train so much they just don’t want to climb out).
The second problem is that special cases aren’t always well thought out.
A few days ago, with one trip left on my card upon arrival at Centurion station, I purchased a new 35-day pass. I figured that I would use my last trip the next morning, and in the afternoon my new pass would take effect. I was wrong.
I used my last trip as expected, but my new 35-day pass hasn’t yet taken effect (three trips later). I’m told that it will only take effect on the 20th of March. The reason for this, as far as I understand it, is that I purchased a new pass while the current one was still active, which means that the current one has to run out (of active days) before the next one can activate.
I’m sure you already see the solution here: my original pass should have deactivated as soon as it was used up, allowing the newly purchased pass to take effect on my next use. If not this then I should have been prevented from purchasing a new pass or there should have been a big red flashing warning sign when I attempted it. You’d think that there would be a way for me to speak to someone to get this issue fixed, but the client service representative at Centurion informed me that there is no way to change this. They expect me to believe that there is no one with administrative privileges that can help me out, not even the maintainers of the system responsible for this.
Adding insult to injury
If you’ve been living under a rock, you might not have heard that the Gautrain had serious bus strikes in February. This meant that I, along with many other people, couldn’t use the Gautrain, because getting to the next station is only half of our actual journey. From Sandton station, I need to take a bus to Randburg. I would walk, but I prefer to not get fired for being 2 hours late.
This then meant that I took the harrowing journey on the freeway from Centurion to Randburg for a week or so, which means that I ended up with a few unused trips. As I mentioned before, I’m not the only one, and I know of a few people that had a lot more than I did. As I also mentioned before, there is no way to reclaim those trips. Naturally, people weren’t happy.
Thus, the Gautrain posted this which details a refund procedure for those people who were affected. I asked about this procedure and was told that I did not qualify because I only had 4 or so unused trips. I’m not sure how other people’s claims went as this method was “announced” fairly silently.
The Gautrain is not treating its customers with any respect in my opinion, and it looks like they think of them as money bags that need to be shaken apart to get to the good stuff.
To that, I have this to say: treat your customers with dignity, and treat them as the people who are responsible for your jobs. I guarantee that if you treat customers right, they will reward you with recommendations, encouragement, and more business. They will effectively start throwing their money at you.
Gautrain, your move.