Train stations are not easy for disabled people

2015-05-05 06:00

I have witnessed how Metrorail and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) do not value disabled people.

I have been in the Western Cape for a long time now and my experience is based here.

I’m not an engineer, but I can use common sense to analyse the situation, which should apply to most of the engineers/senior officials of Prasa and Metrorail.

From 2009 towards 2010 and the Soccer World Cup Prasa and Metrorail did some serious renovations of the stations for the occasion. This was done to impress the tourists that were here for the World Cup. But they forgot our own people who use trains on a daily basis throughout the year.

To be specific, in southern suburbs I will mention a few train stations from Wynberg train station to Observatory. For people with disabilities it is extremely difficult or even impossible to use these stations. They are not disabled-friendly for people, especially those in wheelchairs and the blind with guide dogs, sticks and crutches.

Only Claremont has a wheelchair facility, but only for platform one. It means if you want to go to platform two it will be extremely difficult to do so. All of the train stations I have mentioned either have a subway or a bridge, which is not accessible to the disabled.

Currently there are a few stations that are under construction or being revamped, but in my view I do not believe that Prasa or Metrorail are thinking about the issue I’m raising.

I think it will take them some time to realise that they are not taking people with disabilities seriously and to make sure that train stations are conducive for them so that they can use train stations and trains. In fact, it is very clear that they do not even take their own employees with disability seriously, because some of them are using trains on a daily basis.

The significant question that Prasa and Metrorail have no choice but to answer is when they are going to deal with such an unconducive environment. Prasa’s slogan or motto says “be moved” but in reality they are not inclusive to all customers.

For the trains themselves are shoddy because they are not user-friendly for people with disabilities, for evident reasons. I’m raising this issue, because Prasa and Metrorail are parastatals so they have no choice but to lead by example before we can even talk about other means of transport.

Maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt for the new trains that are going to be launching next year, 2016 or 2017.

Lastly, I saw one or two train stations with a toilet for people with disability. This is the outcome of the recent renovations. Such improvement must be acknowledged. I hope all train stations will have such facilities. Example: Mowbray station has such a facility.

In simple terms, Prasa or Metrorail must make sure that such concerns are addressed finish and klaar. This is not a request but this is their obligation to do such!

Daphne Kayster, Metrorail spokesperson, responds:

It is acknowledged that the rail system is not yet fully accessible. It is one of Prasa’s key strategic projects for the next few years. The process is driven by Prasa corporate office as it affects all of the company’s services (bus, long distance passenger and commuter rail as well as facilities).

Under the auspices of Prasa Group (Metrorail’s principal) a universal access policy inclusive of design, norms, standards and guidelines is being finalised. Universal accessibility is one of the acknowledged priorities and all new assets and facilities will have levels of access as determined by the policy.

The policy document includes prioritisation of corridors, park and ride facilities, prioritisation of target groups, the process and funding for upgrades, appropriate signage, security elements, rolling stock requirements, development of a training manual for employees to deal with travelers with special needs and special needs passenger (SNP) desks at major information centres where literature, accessible information and assistance will be available.

The director of universal design in Ppublic transport (responsible for universal design in public transport in the national department of transport) assists Prasa to deal with universal access issues and works with Prasa and the ministry of women, children and people with disabilities to help resolve the matters listed.

Until Prasa’s policy interventions are in place, Metrorail as the rail operator maintains a register of users that require special assistance to ensure that station staff assist customers to travel with dignity. Commuters with specific requirements can register their requirements at a customer information desk or email

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