The Transport System Fails Persons with Disabilities

It is hard to imagine the difficulties and hardships that Persons with Disabilities, especially those with mobility impairment, suffer as they commute.

Oliver Tambo International Airport made news headlines when people with disabilities were not assisted in boarding an aircraft. What about ordinary Persons with Disabilities from the townships and rural areas who are struggling to use taxis and trains? Do they receive publicity for their daily discrimination?

The Gautrain Rail System, the Bus Rapid Transport System, the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme and the Integrated Public Transport Policy are already underway. These programmes will determine the future of public transport in South Africa but have people with mobility impairment been provided for, or even consulted? How does one know the needs of the other person without consulting such a person?

The Constitution states that South Africa is founded on values of Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. This lays the basis for the purpose and spirit of the Constitution, the Supreme law of the land, and is binding on both the State and the private sector. The Constitution also affirms that Persons with Disabilities may not be discriminated against either directly or indirectly on the basis of their Disability. Surely the lack of accessible transport discriminates against Persons with Disabilities?

It is estimated that around 80% of South Africans use taxis as their main source of transport. Almost all taxis operating in South Africa are inaccessible to Persons with Disability and they are therefore unable to travel to work or school. Buses operated by the private sector and Metros are not all accessible except the few in Johannesburg City operated by Metrobus. Cape Town had a dial a ride at some point. This lack of accessible transport is a travesty of justice, profoundly unfair and a mind boggling omission.

The Disability sector, through Disabled People South Africa (DPSA), years ago drafted a Disability Charter calling for public transport to be accessible to persons with different forms of disability. Various Governmental Papers, Policies and Acts such as The Integrated National Disability Strategy (1997), White Paper National Transport Policy (1996) and The Land Transport and Transition Act (1997) maintain that whilst public transport should be provided at the lowest cost, responsible transport authorities should identify the needs of special passengers, including disabled people, and these needs should be included in their transport plans. It also calls for paying special attention to designing public transport vehicles so that they do not pose barriers to Persons with Disabilities. These issues were introduced in 1996 and 1997, but little has been done yet to implement them.

The main purpose of the National Land Transport Bill (2008) is to provide for the Final transformation and restructuring of the National Land Transport. The Disability sector should use this opportunity to influence policy. The key challenges that need to be addressed urgently for transport related to Persons with Disabilities are, amongst others, the following:

  • Accessible public transport vehicle;
  • Accessible public transport stages;
  • Public transport design and universal access; and
  • Taxi recapitalisation.

Columnist Photos