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 to 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 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 no 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.
Elroy Lodewyk, from Bonteheuwel, who is a Dial-a-Ride forum member who works for DPSA, said Dial-a-Ride was failing its users. He said complaints about booking times, the waiting list, and the number of buses were coming on for years. “We need answers. The City is aware of our complaints but they don’t give us answers. The number of buses declined from 24 to 20, which serves the entire city.”
He said two days before they marched for better services in 2016, the City called them to say that R10 million was made available for more buses. “Where are the buses? Instead of getting more, we now have less. What happend to the money? It’s unfair towards the users.”
Christine Simon’s from Wesbank, who is in a wheelchair, said she had lost jobs because of the unreliable service. “They pick me up at 10am and then when I get to work it’s almost lunch time. Other people complain that they are still waiting to book transport.”
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.”
Nosipho Magengelele, who is blind, fell out of a taxi when the Dial-a-Ride transport failed to pick her up and her husband, Louis, who is also visually impaired, tried to help get her to work. “I used to work at School of the Blind in Salt River, but I lost my job because Dial-a-Ride did not come pick us up.”
The couple, who live in Nyanga, cannot support themselves. Mr Magengelele said the buses always come at different times, and sometimes it’s not possible to book a week before if you are called for an interview on the spot. We need transport that is more reliable,” he said.
Cheryl Healford, from Grassy Park, said six years ago she received an RDP house which is not wheelchair-friendly and accessible. Ms Healford is wheelchair-bound and visually impaired. “There is no transport except Dial-a-Ride, but I am still on the waiting list to use the service for the past 10 years. I can’t get around.”
Phumeza Mara from Kraaifontein, who is also in a wheelchair, said they desperately need more buses. “We lose so many jobs because of transport issues. We are also people who need services, just like the rest.”
Ms Purchase said HG Travelling Services had taken the City to court after they had lost the tender. She said while they have awarded a new tender, the court had halted the process.
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. The services are integrated with that of the MyCiTi bus service which also accommodates passengers in wheelchairs. Users can lodge complaints to the Transport Information Centre on 0800 656 463.