Protesters call for better transport for disabled people

“I am disabled and not stupid”

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Photo of woman in wheelchair at protest
Feroza Obaray attended the protest yesterday calling for better public transport. Photo: Masixole Feni

About 50 people, many of them with disabilities, protested yesterday in the city centre, calling for better public transport service for disabled people.

The protesters were complaining about the Dial-a-Ride (DAR) service provided by the City of Cape Town. One of the organisers, Shirlene Jonker, handed a memorandum of demands to the City of Cape Town representative, Wilfred Solomon-Johannes. Jonker later told GroundUp that Solomon-Johannes had promised that his office would respond within seven days.

Among other things, the protesters called for more buses to be made available, for more school children to be accommodated, for caregivers to be allowed onto the buses with the people they were taking care of, for the present seven day booking period to be scrapped, and for people with disabilities to be consulted before changes were made to the transport system.

“I am disabled and not stupid” and “Away with seven days booking” read some of the placards carried by the protesters.

Plumstead resident Naomi Mxego (31) said she had taken leave from work to join the protest.

“I am not asking for free things. All I am asking is for the government to assist me to contribute towards the country’s economy. I am a voter therefore it is my right to access well managed transport.”

She said the City made decisions about Dial-a-Ride without consulting users, “yet we are paying for this service”.

She complained that the booking system did not work.

In response to a request from comment Mayoral Committee Member for Transport, Brett Herron, sent the following statement to GroundUp:

City committed to enforcing Dial-a-Ride service conditions

The City of Cape Town has been providing the Dial-a-Ride (DAR) service to residents with special needs since 1999.

The DAR service is subsidised in part by the Western Cape Government and the City and has a limited budget which we spend as wisely and efficiently as possible, and in a way that allows us to provide a transport service to as many eligible users possible.

The City is committed to universal access and we try, within our means, to assist those residents who cannot make use of conventional public transport services. We are always striving to improve our service delivery, in particular for those with special needs and who do not have access to work opportunities.

The DAR service has a limited budget and therefore a limited capacity. Given these constraints, the DAR service is for the exclusive use by those who have been assessed by an occupational therapist as being unable to access conventional public transport services.

Given the limited capacity and the huge demand for this service, we have been focused on increasing access to the service and ensuring that those who are on the service are in fact unable to make use of regular public transport.

In 2014, during a period of eight months, the City launched a compulsory reassessment project in an effort to ensure that only those who qualify are making use of the DAR service. At the time, all registered DAR users were required to be reassessed by an occupational therapist to determine their eligibility to make use of the service and the City paid for all of the associated costs. 

The majority of registered users complied with this requirement.

However, for the past year-and-a-half, approximately 170 people who often make use of the DAR service have refused to be assessed by an occupational therapist. They are part of a small group who protested against the service this morning, 28 April 2016.

Unfortunately we cannot allow this situation to continue. It is unfair to the more than 2,000 users who have been assessed and to other people with special needs who desperately need the DAR service and are on the waiting list to be accommodated.

Furthermore, approximately 45 people are still making use of the DAR service, irrespective of the fact that they have been assessed by an occupational therapist and found to be able to make use of conventional public transport. Again, due to capacity constraints and in the interest of fairness and equity, we cannot allow this situation to continue.

We must ensure that only those who actually qualify are using the DAR service. These 45 people are also part of the group threatening to protest.

As such, I would like to make the following announcement:

  • Those users who have not been assessed by an occupational therapist now have a further window period of approximately three months to do so. Further details about the assessments, which will be at the City’s cost, will be available from 15 May 2016. Those who have not undertaken an assessment must do so by 15 August 2016 at the latest
  • The 45 people who are still insisting on making use of the DAR service despite the finding of the occupational therapist that they are able to make use of conventional public transport will have a window period of approximately three months to make alternative transport arrangements. As from 1 July 2016, they will no longer be accommodated on the DAR service.

We understand and acknowledge that some of the DAR users may need the assistance of a caregiver to accompany them on their trips. In these instances we do permit a caregiver to travel free of charge on the DAR service, but on condition that an occupational therapist has assessed the user and has confirmed that the assistance of a caregiver is necessary.

To date, only three people who have been assessed by an occupational therapist were found to be in need of a caregiver. Another 20 users have applied to be allowed registered caregivers on the DAR buses and they will be assessed as part of a comprehensive new assessment process that will see occupational therapists accompanying them for a number of days to and from their destinations.

As from 1 July 2016, the City will only allow caregivers on the DAR service if an occupational therapist has found that their assistance is necessary. Unfortunately we can make no exceptions going forward. In addition, those who require caregivers will not be allowed access on the DAR service unless accompanied by a caregiver – this is in their own interest and for safety reasons.

Once again, the City must apply this principle, given the fact that the service has limited capacity. For every caregiver accompanying a DAR user, one less resident with special needs can be accommodated on the service. We cannot allow a situation where unregistered caregivers take up space that is meant for people with special needs who do qualify, but are on the waiting list due to capacity constraints.

The City is aware of complaints about the appointment of a new vehicle operating company to provide the DAR service. The City’s contract with the previous vehicle operating company came to an end after a three-year contract period. This contract is governed by the same procurement legislation that governs the awarding of all contracts, stipulating that a contract runs for no more than three years and is awarded following a competitive tender process. 

The City subsequently appointed a new contractor for the provision of the DAR service – HG Travel – who has been providing the DAR service in a new fleet of MyCiTi-branded vehicles as from 1 December 2015. We informed all of the DAR users about this change.

Contrary to what is being claimed by some of the DAR users, the new DAR service the efforts made by the City and the restructuring of the contract has meant that the provider has been able to provide more trips and assisted more DAR users than the previous vehicle operating company was able to.

We currently have 21 buses for the transportation of Dial-a-Ride users. Each bus can accommodate five wheelchairs and three seated passengers.

Previously the fleet of the DAR service could only accommodate 70 wheelchairs at a time. Since 1 December 2015, with the introduction of the new vehicle operating company, the DAR fleet can accommodate 102 wheelchairs at a time.

Where users are unhappy with any aspect of the service, we have a penalty system in place that provides for financial penalties to be imposed upon an operator should the vehicle operating company fail to provide the service at the high standards set by the City. 

However, we can only invoke that penalty system if DAR users lodge formal complaints when they experience unacceptable service. We investigate all complaints and, if needed, we will address these with the new service provider. 

I once again call on DAR users to please report complaints to the Transport Information Centre on 0800 65 64 63 – complainants will be issued with a reference number and will receive feedback once the complaint has been investigated.

Aside from regular users, other eligible users can use the DAR service on an ad hoc basis (once-off trip) for which a booking is required each time a person wishes to make a trip. The booking system works on a first-come, first-served basis and can be made seven days in advance. Eligible people can use the following number for bookings: 0800 600 895.

The transport tariff varies according to the distance travelled, with a minimum rate of R6,70 per trip, depending on the distance travelled.

I want to reiterate that the DAR service has limited capacity and is for the exclusive use by persons who have been assessed by an occupational therapist and found to be physically unable to access conventional public transport services.

It is in the interest of all of our residents that we enforce the conditions as set out above.

This article was updated on 30 April with Councillor Herron’s statement.

TOPICS:  Disability Rights Government Transport

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