Is there Brrrrrrrr for us in BRT?

Johannesburg recently launched the first route of their new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project.
For the first time, wheelchair users should be able to catch a bus from the middle of Jozie-town to Soweto. If all the stations/platforms have been built according to the recommendations and, if all the drivers have been properly and effectively trained to bring their bus to the appropriate docking points, you have a fair chance of being able to do this route independently as well!
Each bus takes two wheelchairs. Fewer seats and more standing room on these short journeys would have freed up space for wheelchair users but for now we will have to settle for two.
The project planners guaranteed that all of the additional buses feeding the BRT line (or taking passengers further) would also be accessible for wheelchair users (minimum one place per bus) and for this we can but wait and see. It is a critical aspect of the integratedness of this transport system and to our successful travel chain.
The sight impaired are catered for within the ticketing and communication system as are the hearing impaired. All instructions should be communicated to you appropriately.
What we are expecting – and what we have worked towards – is a universally accessible and integrated public transport system, safe and affordable, running by a timetable system, with staff (including drivers) sensitised to the needs of people with disabilities. Is this a tall order? I don’t think so, actually we have a right to all of this.
So, any of you that live close by, please go and give it a try – we would love to hear from you about your accessible transportation experience.
Low floor buses, or kneeling buses, can stop just about anywhere and take on or let-off people in wheelchairs. This alleviates the need for a dedicated and fixed position structure for a pickup/drop-off point. It also removes the need for a dedicated centre lane. We could also be picked up and dropped off closer to where we need to be. Consensus says that with accessible transport you are never farther than 500m from where you need to be. This would mobilise a large percentage of the population, in an accessible and safe way.
The City of Johannesburg chose a high floor bus as their core vehicle, which means that they needed to build raised platforms at each pickup/drop-off point, and so the Public Works have been tremendously expensive. They argue that the cost of running a high floor bus is cheaper than that of a low floor bus – so in the long term it is worthwhile. It does enable a controlled ticketing system ensuring that the revenue goes into the right pockets.
BRT is here to stay. Twelve cities in South Africa will be implementing this transport system. Not all will be using the high floor buses, some will be using low floor buses and so, over time, I guess we will see which suits us best – I hope this won’t be too much of an expensive and unpleasant experiment.
What is really important for us is that this rapid transit system is primarily accessible (hopefully in a universal way) and creates a travel chain opportunity for all citizens by integrating with all other modes of transport. We must be able to get to the bus stop, from the bus stop to the train station and from the train station to the airport. The order of this integration doesn’t matter, the important thing is that each different transport mode understands and implements the principles of universal design and accessibility. There should be no “end of the line” situation.
We must show our support for BRT. The taxi industry has never catered for people with disabilities, we need to show strong support for this accessible transport system. It is unfortunate that the taxi industry would not look to the future and transform itself into a more accessible and safe environment. All of a sudden they are now up in arms.
Yes, there are lots of issues which they have put on the table, the issue that affects us the most, is the fact that they have still not seen their way clear to catering for people with disabilities.
After BRT, it won’t be long before the Gautrain comes on board, and this is another project that we must watch. We have engaged with the project managers, who guaranteed an accessible service.
The success of both BRT and Gautrain in the city of Johannesburg will be measured by their integration.
We must not accept anything less.

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