Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said on Tuesday that the commuter rail system in Cape Town is on the brink of total collapse and has proposed several alternative replacements – including a monorail, and even urban cable cars.

“The acute decrease in the number of passengers making use of commuter rail confirms the escalating decline that we have witnessed since 2015,” he said, noting that passenger rail numbers have fallen by 30% from 2015/16 to 2016/17.

“According to the latest data received from Metrorail, there were on average 2.7 million fewer rail journeys in Cape Town per month in 2016/17 when compared with 2015/16.”

Herron said that more than half of all commuter journeys – that is 54% – are made by train. “However, Metrorail’s data confirms that thousands of commuters have been displaced to road-based transport – be it private vehicles, minibus-taxis or buses – over the past two years.”

“The city cannot sit back and wait for the National Government to intervene. Time is of the essence,” the counselor said. “Should council give us the go-ahead, we will present a business plan to the department of transport in which we will propose to take over passenger rail in a structured and incremental manner.”

He stressed that the take-over must happen gradually so that the city can plan ahead, acquire the necessary skills, and develop the additional capacity to ensure the long-term sustainability of passenger rail.

Herron said that fixing passenger rail in Cape Town is akin to a business rescue. He said the city will need more funding at various points during the rescue operation.

Inclusive of the business plan for the assignment of the urban rail function is a report setting out a detailed analysis of the risks involved and the measures in mitigating these. The business plan sets out the city’s assignment methodology.

“The reports will serve before the mayoral committee for recommendation next week, and will be submitted to full council for approval on 26 October 2017,” he said.

The full details of the reports will be made public in due course they include a “detailed exploration and investigation of the feasibility of alternative rail solutions such as light rail, skyrail, monorail, and urban cable car”.

Last month Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD underlined Cape Town as a “hot prospect” for its new Skyrail monorail system.

“Alternative rail solutions could be implemented as part of the City’s comprehensive integrated transport plan or in areas where they could be more economically viable than other modes of public transport – in particular in those areas that are currently not served by passenger rail and the MyCiTi bus service,” Herron said.

“I want to be frank about the reality that it will take us years to repair the damage done to passenger rail over the past three decades. Setbacks should be expected,” he said.