Public transport letting down disabled citizens

2014-04-11 00:00

A DISABLED civic group has handed over a list of complaints to the city council stating that the public transport system does not adequately address their needs.

They have labelled the city as uncaring when it comes to their needs and putting their lives at risk by making access to the public transport system difficult and dangerous.

Their complaint comes just days after the release of a research paper by the University of KwaZulu-Natal which found that the lives of the disabled community are hindered by the inability of the current public transport system to accommodate their needs.

Umlazi resident Mlungisi Ntombela, who sits on both the eThekwini Disability Sports Forum and the eThekwini Disability Forum, said the current system in place known as Sukuma and Dial-a-Ride — which picks up disabled passengers at pre-arranged designated spots — is insufficient.

“The current system does not take into consideration the needs of passengers,” he said. “There is not enough space for multiple passengers using wheelchairs. Some passengers must also travel 30 minutes to get to a pre-determined pick- up spot. For the blind, this is very hard. We are easy victims for criminals and the women face the added possibility of being raped.” Ntombela said they have requested the service also runs on weekends and public holidays.

Very little information could be found on either the Sukuma bus service or Dial-a-Ride. When The Witness contacted an office for Dial-a-Ride, they would not give any details on how one could access the service. The man said, “We first interrogate the person before we tell them anything”.

What The Witness did ascertain was that Sukuma buses and Dial-A-Ride transport caters for people unable to use traditional buses and other forms of public transport.

But Helga Koch, who graduated with a Master’s degree in Development Studies and who has just completed an 18-month study, found that people living with disabilities were excluded from public transport system.

This despite the city having stated that the needs of the disabled are central to a 15-year multi-billion rand roll-out of an integrated bus rapid transport system the first stage of which is to be operational between 2016 to 2018.

“This in turn contributes to occupational marginalisation, occupational deprivation, occupational apartheid and limited occupational choice,” said Koch, “which is related to not being able to pursue various occupations, being isolated, feeling powerless and having a reduced sense of well-being.”

Koch said the results indicate that people with disabilities are excluded from public transport and experience challenges in each step of the travel chain. These challenges include the attitude of the transport operators and other passengers, as well as the inaccessibility of the vehicles and built environment.

“The eThekwini Municipality is in the process of planning and implementing the Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network, however, there are concerns about this future system and measures to improve the current system.”

Koch said there needs to be a greater commitment to addressing public transport service provision holistically, so that those with disabilities can fully participate as citizens in society.

Koch said during the field work she found some “horrific” stories. She said one interviewee who was blind described how he had once been left in the middle of the road after being dropped off by a taxi while the traffic light was green.

“He literally had no idea what was going on, and just knew that cars were passing by him on either side; his guide dog edging ever closer, indicating he must not move. Eventually someone pulled him out of the road to safety.”

The city was approached for comment but had not responded by the time of going to press.

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