Disabled demand transport

The group of about 40 protesters outside the Civic Centre.

The disabled community showed their frustration with the Dial-a-Ride service, run by the City of Cape Town, in a heated protest to the Civic Centre last week.

The service had to be temporarily halted at the beginning of the year when the City informed users via a media release that unexpected delays were experienced during the procurement of a new long-term six-year contract due an ongoing appeals process.

The users of the service established a user’s forum and forum members and members of Disabled People South Africa (DPSA) organised the protest march to call for a better service, improved communication between City officials and the users, and most importantly, the right to accessible transport.

During the protest march last Thursday April 25, people demanded answers from the City about the transport schedules, the number of buses, and overall service delivery of the service.

Making their way to the Civic Centre, people could be heard chanting “No votes from us”, and “We want the mayor”.

They say the Dial-a Ride service for people with disabilities, contracted by the City to HG Travelling Services, had failed them.

The struggle of people with disabilities were evident when they could not hand over the memorandum because they were unable to mount the stairs at the Hertzog Boulevard entrance to the Civic Centre. The protesters were directed to various points around the building, until some of them were eventually helped up a few steps by some of the able-bodied members, and then a scuffle with the security guards ensued.

The City says that while they are aware of the issues, they are stuck in a court battle with HG Travelling Services after they lost the tender.

Until the court proceedings are over, the City is unable to attend to any of the concerns as they are stuck with the contractor, said Mayco member for transport, Felicity Purchase, who came down to receive the memorandum after a previous official was sent away by protesters.

The provincial secretary of DPSA, Taswell Williams, from Beacon Valley in Mitchell’s Plain, said he has been using Dial-a-Ride since 2003, and has always had problems.

Mr Williams suffered a spinal injury and has been left wheelchair bound. He said they’ve been told they cannot travel with carers anymore, but have no idea why. “We miss appointments because we drive around for hours to pick up others. They prioritise school children and the workers, but what about the people who need to go to the doctor? What about people who need to go to funerals? It’s inefficient.”

He said when people talk about disability, they talk about inclusion. However, he said there is not an inclusive transport system for people with disabilities. “We want the City to make more seats available, because we rely on services like Dial-a-Ride. We need more buses. We would also like them to fast-track the integrated transport system. Transport is essential – we cannot access interviews and work.”

Mr Williams said the City also needs to work with disabled people and include them in plans and decision-making as able-bodied people do not share the same challenges.

Carol Arendse, the vice-chairperson of the Dial-a-Ride forum, said despite numerous complaints, the disabled community is not receiving satisfactory service. “We need to book transport seven days in advance, so if you get a doctor’s appointment in between or you need to attend an interview, you can’t get around.

“There are only 20 buses which can only occupy five wheelchairs and four seats per bus. We want to show our disappointment in the service.”

In a statement, the City said they were engaging with the provincial government to increase its subsidy for the service.

“It is also requesting that national government provides a financial contribution which will allow for an increase in capacity,” said Ms Purchase. Once the additional capacity becomes available the City will arrange for applicants on the waiting list to be assessed by an occupational therapist to ensure fairness and that due diligence is performed.

HG Travelling Services was appointed through a tender process and it has been providing the Dial-a-Ride service since December 1 2015. The tender with HG Travelling Services was for the period from 1 December 2015 and it was due to expire in June 2018.

Ms Purchase said in anticipation of the expiration of the current contract, a new tender for the Dial-a-Ride service was advertised on October 6 2017. The closing date was November 7 2017. The tender was awarded to WCL Trading, however, HG Travelling Services approached the Western Cape High Court to set aside the awarding of the tender. The court granted HG Travelling Services an interdict that prevents the City from going ahead with awarding the operating contract to a new service provider until the case has been finalised in court.

Despite this, Ms Purchase said the service continues. “HG Travelling Services will keep on providing the Dial-a-Ride service on a month-to-month basis pending the outcome of the court. We understand that there is some frustration from the users and we can assure them that we are doing everything in our power to have the service function optimally.”

She said there is a penalty system in place that monitors the vehicles and assesses punctuality and driver behaviour. The service currently transports 350 regular users and 2 270 passengers use it on an ad hoc basis. Users can lodge complaints to the Transport Information Centre on 0800 656 463.