WHEELCHAIR-BOUND commuters are up in arms about a lack of access facilities at the Mitchell’s Plain train station.
The station has no ramps from the ticket office at Station Plaza on to the platforms, forcing Metrorail security guards to assist commuters in wheelchairs.
Frustrated disabled passengers say a lift was installed at the train station several years ago, but has never been in operation.
Eastridge resident Charles Murray urges Metrorail and the City of Cape Town to come up with a viable solution to address the issue.
A steep ramp takes commuters into the Station Plaza in the Town Centre and Murray says it’s tiring to have to venture up there on his own.
Anthony George from Tafelsig says people in wheelchairs who travel by train require the assistance of about four security guards to reach the platform.
“I need three or four security guards to carry me down the steep flight of stairs. If there are no male security guards on duty, you either have to wait or ask other commuters. It is humiliating,” he says.
Lindelo Matya, the acting regional manager for Prasa Real Estate Solutions, says an investigation will be launched to establish why the lifts are out of order.
However, he says that lifts are often installed at stations and misused by commuters who do not have “special needs”.
Murray says the humiliation can be avoided if a ramp is built at the ticket office to the platform.
“They can even just fix the lifts to make our commuting experience less labour intensive,” he says.
When People’s Post visited the train station there were no male security guards on duty and the two lifts on the platforms were out of order.
George says Robin Carlisle, the provincial minister of Transport and Public Works, promised disabled commuters that he would look into the matter and provide better access at the train station for disabled people.
Carlise says the wheels of change have been set in motion, but the process of making public transport hubs more accessible is not happening fast enough.
“I have made money available to Metrorail for this,” he says.
Carlisle is unable to vouch for what had been done with the money.
George, who takes the train to Cape Town twice a week, says he has on occasion missed the train because there were no male security guards to assist him on to the platform. Murray says he too had similar experiences.
“If I sit in a carriage at the end of a train I have to rush out so that I can get to the staircase before all the commuters are gone just in case there are no security officers to assist, in which case I need to ask commuters to help me up the stairs,” he adds.
“Our human rights are being violated. Do they want us to burn wheelchair tyres at the station before something is done?”
Disabled People South Africa say limited access to transport hubs need to be solved urgently.
The organisation’s provincial programme coordinator, Charistadella Zenzile, says this problem is in violation of people’s rights to access to public places.
“It is of grave concern that disabled people in wheelchairs still do not have proper access to train stations. So many of them rely on public transport as they cannot afford private transport and do not necessarily have access to the Dial-A-Ride service,” she says.
Murray says taking a train is a lot cheaper than travelling by taxi.
A return trip from Mitchell’s Plain to Cape Town by taxi is R48. A return trip from Mitchell’s Plain to Cape Town by train is R15.
DPSA officials say a meeting needs to be arranged with Metrorail to find solutions to the challenges disabled people face when travelling by train.
Carlisle says a lot of money and time needs to be invested in to addressing the matter.
“There are no easy answers to this situation. The biggest problem commuters also face is that the height of the platform and train are not the same. We hope that with the new rail stock which will be on the tracks in 2015 will have a direct roll on capacity. Trains will be built at the same level as the platform making it easier for people in wheelchairs to board a train,” Carlisle explains.
Mthuthuzeli Swartz, the regional manager of Metrorail Western Cape, explains the procedure that follows if anyone were injured while being carried by a Metrorail security guard.
“Metrorail will investigate an incident and is obliged to refer all claims to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s corporate insurers. The regional risk department assists claimants by providing the correct documentation for completion before submission to the insures for processing. The insurers revert directly to the claimant with their decision.”