Guide dog bus drama

ROSHAN ABRAHAMS

Blind Peacock Close resident Theo Louis was humiliated when a bus driver insisted he buy a ticket for his guide dog, Chad.

Mr Louis, a part-time law student, who works at Mowbray Maternity Hospital as a switchboard operator, said he takes the train from Mowbray to Cape Town, then catches the Bayview bus, from the Cape Town terminus, at 5.45pm.

“I gave my clipcard to my friend to show the bus driver and then sat down with my guide dog, Chad.”

However, while driving a little out of Cape Town, the driver started demanding that Mr Louis pay for the dog.

Mr Louis said he was traumatised by the driver who was arrogant and unfriendly towards him.

He felt his human dignity was infringed upon during the incident on April 7.

“A lot of things went through my mind and I thought about what would happen the next day – what if I get the same driver, and he demands that I pay for the dog again. The bus was my only mode of transport to work,” said Mr Louis.

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The bus driver then stopped the bus and refused to continue driving unless Mr Louis pay for a ticket for the dog.

Mr Louis ended up paying for the extra ticket, even though he didn’t have to, but he was supported by other passengers aboard the bus.

“I heard a lot of them complained after the incident about the driver,” said Mr Louis.

“It is great that people stood up for me. It is about time that South Africans stood up for each other,” he said.

Fellow commuter Bernadette Williams told Southern Mail she was one of the people who went to lay a complaint at the service information centre in Cape Town.

“I mentioned that the driver verbally abused, tormented and embarrassed the man and insisted that he pay for his dog. He had to audacity to stop the bus in Woodstock, switched off the bus completely and would not move the bus until the poor blind man paid for the dog.”

Mr Louis emailed Golden Arrow’s head office about the incident and was told they would follow it up.

“They said they will investigate and that the driver will come back to me. I wasn’t happy with that reply. I don’t know if he meant the driver will apologise to me because I also don’t know what he looks like,” said the blind Mr Louis, managing to make some light out of the situation.

Bronwen Dyke-Beyer, spokesperson for Golden Arrow bus services, apologised for the incident.

“Golden Arrow would like to offer our most heartfelt apologies to Mr Louis for his unpleasant experience. What happened was human error and not at all indicative of company policy. We have contacted Mr Louis and are very grateful that he has been so understanding. The driver has been called in and has also apologised for how the situation was handled and not being familiar with the rules regarding guide dogs.

“According to Golden Arrow’s fare schedule, which is the official document used by drivers to determine fares, it is clearly stated that guide dogs travel for free. Mr Louis was therefore indeed correct in that he only needs his clipcard to board the bus. The same applies to wheelchair users who do not pay for their wheelchairs. Small dogs that can be carried are conveyed free of charge and large dogs are transported at the adult fare. We will be communicating with all our drivers on this particular issue to ensure that there is no confusion in future.”

While Mr Louis said he was not happy with the whole response from Golden Arrow, he was glad that they said they would be communicate with their drivers about the issue.

Mr Louis also sometimes battles to board a taxi with his dog but he said not all the taxi associations refuse him and Chad transport.

Mr Louis said about five months ago, when he used to live in Grassy Park, he was using taxis to commute.

“Their drivers were keen to let me on their taxis after I liaised with a member of the taxi board who organised an awareness programme with the drivers to allow me and Chad on the taxi.”

Amien Carlsen, chairperson of the Wynberg Taxi Association, confirms that they do allow blind people with their guide dogs in their taxis. “The blind person needs his guide dog and he gets a special seat in front, with the dog sitting at his feet.”

Mr Louis said he has had Chad at his side for two and a half years.

He said in the past he would not have stood up for his rights, because he was a “softy before he lost his eyesight 25 years ago”.

“I was blinded in a sporting accident. While playing soccer the ball hit my eyes.”

He said when he became blind it was “like learning a new culture”.

“I had to learn how to use my other senses. I went to Pretoria to learn Braille at the school for the blind. After I could read, I went to look for a job. I found one in Salt River. I had to make baskets. I couldn’t finish a basket because I wasn’t into it.”

He decided to apply for other jobs and he has been working at Mowbray Maternity hospital for 10 years. He is also a union representative at work.

Mr Louis is now working hard at his law studies.

“About five years ago I was falsely accused of taking an office key at work. I didn’t like it of course, and decided to build up my confidence and went to study law through UNISA.” He is writing his final LLB exam in June, he said.

Mr Louis said he gets his assignments on a CDs to listen to and then memorises his work.

He said he has faced many challenges and through learning about his rights, “I can stop people from bullying me.”

Armand Bam, executive director of the League of Friends of the Blind (LOFOB), said they consider the bus incident, “a total injustice towards any blind person who has a right to be reasonably accommodated by any public or private transport provider.

“Penalising Mr Louis for utilising a working dog is a violation of his rights as enshrined in our Constitution. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of which South Africa is a signatory states: people with disabilities have the right to access all aspects of society on an equal basis with others including the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, and other facilities and services provided to the public.

“Lofob is committed to offering any employer and its employees assistance with improving their understanding and putting in place the necessary mechanisms to avoid such instances through its disability sensitisation programme.”

Contact Lofob on 021 705 3753 or info@lofob.org.za for more information.