October wasNational Transport Month. The ACSA Disability Trade and Lifestyle Expo &Conference 2011 dedicated a morning to transport issues

According to Deputy Director General, MxolisiKa Toni, Dept. for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, there are major challenges in terms of transportaccess. He said government needs to determine how theNational Transport Strategy meets the needs of people with disabilities andlearn from developed, and developing, countries and missed opportunities.

Jeremy Cronin, MP and Deputy Minister of Transport deliveredthe key note address: The National Transport Strategy and how it affects theDisability Sector. He explained: “Our history of Apartheid and forcedremovals, as well as an absence of major geographical barriers, especially inGauteng, have all contributed to giving us the transport system we have today.”

He admitted that the struggle for universal access continuesstating that, despite only 31% of South Africans havingaccess to a car, the country has inadequate, and expensive, public transport with30% of households spending 11% of their income on transport, and 18% spending20% or more.

We also have the highest numberof road fatalities in the world (per capita) with 14,000 fatalities per annum, 40%are pedestrians and it is the leading cause of death in four to seven year-oldchildren.

Our city traffic is theworst in the world. “Carmaggedon every morning and evening experienced. We arebuilding infrastructure for cars, not people,” he said. Whilst the governmenthas built 3.1 million RDP houses, it has also created more commuters, compoundingthe problems of congestion.

“South Africa comprises anation of migrant workers who travel to work every morning and then back laterin the afternoon and evening.” To change this, Government launched the Public Transport Strategy Action Plan 2007. “This will see a shift from operatorcontrolled, commuter-based unit-modal routes to user-oriented, publiclycontrolled, fully integrated, mass rapid public transport network operations.”

For this to work, publictransport planning needs to be at the municipal level where councillors are atthe coalface. Government sits too far away. Resources must be closer to where servicesare needed, to empower citizens.

Metro Rail, Gauteng, transports2.3 million people a day. They could transport four to five million but itsrolling stock is old. The average age of the 4,638 coaches, (2,920 in operation)is about 37 years. Some are 40 to 50 years old. A major recapitalisationprogramme over 20 years, with a total investment of R123 billion, is nowunderway to revitalise Metro Rail.

As more than 2.4 million ofthe 20 million passengers have an impairment, “We are analysing the implementationstrategy and action plan to guide the provision of accessible public transportsystems in South Africa. In this there is a focus on people with disabilities, aswell as the elderly, pregnant women, parents with prams, etc.”

Peoplehave a universal right of access requiring that public transport services bebased on universal design yet we still find problems with: pre-travelconfidence and information; origin of point of access; boarding and alighting;on-board the vehicle (unsafe speeds, lack of restraint).

The DoT’s plan includes:

  • Create an enablingenvironment: commitment to funding for universal access
  • Leveraging municipalitiesreceiving grants – universal access design plan
  • Training and capacity building
  • Encouraging the disabilitysector to register SETA training courses to build staff capacity and train publictransport operators.

“We need to make sure thatthe new developments are correct while correcting the existing units. This isnot to say we will get it right instantly. PRASA has developed a universalaccess policy. The Gautrain has set a new standard but still has challenges, asdo our bus systems.”

Cronin concluded by sayingthat the disability sector also had a role to play. “There is still a majorneed for a larger national consultation group, as well as the critical need todevelop disability sector activism and engagement at municipal level.”

Steve Morgan, Technical Specialist,National Regulator for Compulsory Specification, Dries van der Walt, GroupExecutive Officer, the Passenger Rail Association of South Africa (PRASA), SusanVenter, Project Manager Airport Operational Passenger Services for SAA, PhilipThompson and Jeremy Cronin then participated in a panel discussion.

Dries van der Walt admittedthat PRASA had a long way to go to universal access. PRASA will spend R20billion over the next three years modernising the rail system. Directional signageis the biggest problem. Universal Access is a criteria in all PRASA tenders forupgrading, and new, stations. R260 million has been provided to provide foruniversal access.

Susan Venter stated that SAAdid not want to restrict any passenger, but had to adhere to aviationrestrictions. SAA would, however, strive to improve all services, on the groundand in the air. She encouraged people with disabilities to go to the SAA website and share ideas on how they could improve.

Philip Thompson, principalarchitect, IDC Architects and the National Council for People with PhysicalDisabilities was riveting.

“The special needspassenger framework fails to acknowledge principles of mobility integration anduniversal access. Universal accessibility is not yet, however considered anintegral part of a quality transport system.” According to him, there is arelationship between social sustainability and universal access and we need tothink around universal access and design. “We fail to acknowledge bestpractice. We say we do not have standards in South Africa but in fact thesestandards exist internationally and there is no need to re-invent the wheel.”

His analysis found:

  • Taxi recapitalisation:ensure some vehicles are universally accessible.
  • Rail: accessing trains is amajor challenge.
  • Gautrain: a complexticketing system, signage issues regarding information, emergency escape andsafety and bus problems. Alarm systems not accessible to all.
  • Rea Vaya (JHB): informationproblems, both pre-trip and during travel.
  • MyCiTi (CT): has improvedintegrated, tactile way-finding systems but there are storm-water outlet, postsand emergency system problems. He questioned why both Rea Vaya and MyCiTi havehigh floor systems. Golden Arrow buses (CT) have low floor systems.

In conclusion he said: “Wherephysical access not available, we must not just throw up our arms.”

Practise what you preach?

Government is not reaching its mandate to employ peoplewith disabilities nor ensuring that its buildings are accessible. Rolling Inspiration visited DoT inPretoria and found its accessibility lacking.

Christina Sibanyani is anemployee of DoT. Every day she parks her car in the basement, then takes thegoods lift to the fifth floor because there is no accessible lift for wheelchairusers. Sometimes she waits up to 15 minutes for the lift. Sometimes the liftdoes not work.

An accident while working forthe DoT led to her paraplegia. DoT changed a bathroom for her. It is the only accessiblebathroom in the building (except for the boardroom bathrooms). DoT also providedher with a laptop, printer and couch.

Inter-leading doors are extremelyheavy and difficult to open, and keep open, as she wheels through. When thereare meetings in the downstairs boardroom Christine needs assistance, as theramp angle is too steep.

Perhaps DoT needs to get its own house in order?