The City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Transport, Roads and Stormwater, Councillor Brett Herron, has made a firm commitment to make public transport, and the streets of Cape Town, more easily accessible to the disabled.
He did this after he took up Whilma Liedeman’s challenge on Thursday, 11 April 2013, to spend the morning in a wheelchair.
The event, attended by Liedeman and other wheelchair users and journalists, was a way to get feedback from various disability groups on their use of city streets and the ways in which to optimise their access on public transport.
“Spending four hours in a wheelchair opened my eyes to what wheelchair users face daily. While I expected to be physically exhausted, the real challenge was the barriers in our way,” says Councillor Herron.
Transport for Cape Town (TCT), the City’s transport authority launched late last year, will set standards for access for the disabled, elderly people, children, those carrying large amounts of luggage and women travelling alone at night. TCT will also ensure that links between train, bus and other transport services are accessible, and oversee implementation.
“Crossing Strand Street was scary,” says Cllr Herron. Despite there being ramps onto the pavement, wheelchair users struggled to push themselves onto them.
At the Civic Centre station, Cllr Herron and his companions tested wheelchair access onto the MyCiTi buses. Some of them struggled to push their wheelchairs onto the boarding bridge that led to the bus, as there was a slight dip between the station platform and the bridge.
“This will be improved,” says Cllr Herron. “We designed the MyCiTi service to be universally accessible, and will tweak it until it is user friendly. MyCiTi has been hailed, internationally, as a role-model on universal access – we have tactile paving for the blind, boarding bridges, audible pedestrian crossings, safety features including CCTV cameras, and yet we are still on a learning curve.”
The group visited the Cape Town railway station, which has wheelchair access through special broad turnstiles. The service is gradually being upgraded to provide universal access.
“The problem of a gap between the platform and the train carriages remains, but disabled people can phone ahead to organise for Metrorail staff to help them board,” says Cllr Herron.
“The exciting news is that the new train sets, which will be universally accessible, are arriving in the first quarter of 2015,” he says.
Along the Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain lines, 18 stations will be revamped to be accessible to everyone.
“As a policymaker, universal access is something we must address urgently. It will be done incrementally – it cannot happen overnight – but it will happen. Either a facility is universally accessible, or it is not. There is no half-way mark,” he says.
For more information about the MyCiTi service, contact the Transport Information Centre on 0800 65 64 63 or visit www.myciti.org.za