The Sandton CBD hosted a month-long ecomobility initiative in October, spotlighting what’s been achieved and what still needs to be done. MANDY LATIMORE reports.
The City of Johannesburg decided to hold an EcoMobility Festival during the “Transport Month” of October to preview a future transport system which is inclusive of non-motorised transport modes (walking and cycling) and an integrated public transport system all work together. They chose the central business hub of Sandton and turned various street spaces into public spaces where people moved from point to point taking public transport, walking and cycling and using eco-mobile vehicles.
Naturally, members from the disability sector wanted to get involved to test these systems. Doug Anderson, senior content producer at Radio 2000, Bernadette Rigney of Fability and Zain Bulbulia from the Gauteng Office of the Premier invited a number of people with different disabilities as well as a large press contingent to scrutinise these so-called accessible transport systems.
On Tuesday October 20, we gathered at the SABC building in Auckland Park and made our way to the ReaVaya Bus station on Empire Road. Our first obstacle was that most of the pavements had no curb cuts; those that were in place were too steep and uneven. We all travelled in the roadway, much to the surprise of the motorists who were being obstructed by the media who were preceding us and documenting our every move. Access to the station, which is situated in the centre of the road, is via a paved ramp that has very steep access. Once in the station, we were able to access the ticket counter, but when going through the security gates, we kept jamming them: as our wheelchairs and guide dogs entered the security area, so that we could get to the swipe pad, they set off the alarm!
[metaslider id=905] On the bus there are accessible spaces with safety belts. We travelled to the Park Station, where we all disembarked and made our way to the Gautrain station. Again, although the pavements were upgraded when the station was built, the paving is already uneven and sets up a major trip hazard not only for people with disabilities, but for everyone. Once inside the station, there is generally good accessibility and the train ride to Hatfield was quick and efficient.
After a quick stop where we checked facilities such as the WCs, we were back on the train and disembarked in Sandton.
Once we reached the ground floor and exited the station, we were amazed to see the number of traffic personnel and other assistants who helpfully advised us of the changes to the Sandton CBD necessitated by the Festival. We could not really move through the CBD with ease, as the pavements were too steep and many did not have the correct curb cuts – and the Tuk-Tuks do not accommodate people with wheelchairs.
We crossed Rivonia Road to the Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel, where we congregated on the patio for complimentary refreshments and snacks while the press conducted the rest of their interviews. The staff were wonderful and even accommodated the guide dog within our group.
The return journey to the SABC provided extra excitement when our ReaVaya bus, even though it has a dedicated lane, was unable to move from the station under the M1 due to student protests. We eventually got back, however, and all agreed that the day successfully highlighted what is required to improve our existing public transport systems.
Here are some of the comments from people with disabilities:
“An efficient, universally accessible public transportation system is vital to enable all to be able to get from their homes to places of work. It is a challenge for people living with disabilities to get from their home to a prospective place of work without such a system,” says Anderson.
“Public transport is not a luxury but a necessity for persons with disabilities. That is why it is important to improve on it,” comments Rigney.
“Modernise public transport and infrastructure for people with disabilities in Gauteng City Region,” is the call from Bulbulia.
Here’s hoping that soon we will all be able to move around easily and safely, no matter what our circumstances.
Mandy Latimore is a consultant in the disability sector in the fields of travel and access. email: firstname.lastname@example.org