Most people like to get out and about independently: for people with disabilities, this is one of the big barriers to integrating into society, being dependent on others, or public transport, to get about. New systems are being designed for 12 of the main centres in South Africa, based on what is called an Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network.

Today, in the everyday urban setting, catching an ordinary taxi is an option, or having a driver for your own vehicle. These options are also the only ones available to children too. In Universal Access children and people with disabilities are two of the categories of people who make a powerful argument for having transport accessible for everyone: not every second bus, or every second station; but every station and every bus. Most of the perennial arguments against this are fallacious anyway. To make the vehicles, stations and buses accessible is more expensive, but not proportionately by as much as generally presumed as, when they are accessible, they can be used by a larger part of the population. If wayfinding, signage, properly paved pavements, uncluttered pavements, good information and communication are added to this, a civilised society will emerge.

In many of the more populous towns and cities in the world, where non-motorized transport has been promoted, life has moved beyond being bogged down by being stressed as to how one is going to manage to get things done.

There is the other side of life (which always amazes me still); people who are not that interested in actually socializing with others, but can get almost everything done via the internet. The technology is, on the whole, user-friendly and now many of the networks are even called ‘social networks’. It doesn’t particularly appeal to me, but I can understand how one can get addicted to this form of communication, and social interaction. It frees us of self-discipline, and mannerly conduct. It is probably not healthy emotionally, but maybe most people work through it, and strike some sort of balance. But I digress.

Back to transport. If most of us start thinking about getting about our daily business, going to work, doing things with family, studying, looking after our health, having fun, and all of this via public facilities, the urban environment will be less congested in every way. It will also have to be attractive enough to get us, who have our own cars, to change to using the public transport. I believe that, in Johannesburg, it is really exciting to arrive at the main airport, and take the Gautrain to Rosebank, Sandton, or Hatfield in Pretoria. This also applies to shopping and office visits, as it only takes 30 minutes to get there. No worry about getting the hire car you need, or meeting with a designated person at the pick-up point or finding your way through traffic and then finding parking, which will take at least an hour.

If a network of public transport comes about, as is being planned, it is going to make a huge difference to all levels of society, in the urban environment. I’ve only been talking about the wealthier people, but it will be equally beneficial for all levels: children should be able to travel safely to school, mothers to clinics, the many people who need to go to the courts, or hospital, and the elderly will be able to use the low floor buses like everyone else.

We were one of the first countries to sign up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Now we’ll be seeing some action. There’s still a long way to go with the project, but at least it’s in the pipeline.

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