Africa May 29, 2012
Almost a decade after the provincial transport department bequeathing approximately R9million for the facelift of the premises, the Mandalay train station is still inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
The Western Cape Transport Department says it has nothing to do with the station and questions should be forwarded to the Passenger Rails Agency of South Africa (Prasa), as it was its mandate to upgrade the station.
However, organisations advocating for persons with disabilities are outraged at the discovery that the station is inaccessible calling for the Transport Department to act urgently and make necessary changes.
Eight years since they were promised a state-of-the-art disabled friendly station, commuters with disabilities still had to be carried up and down the stairs by security personnel at the station because of faulty lifts.
When West Cape News visited the station yesterday there was no sign of progress or work being done at the station.
In 2007, then Transport MEC, Marius Fransman promised to attend to the station’s problems and turn it into a accessible facility.
After visiting the station in 2007 Fransman announced ambitious plans for how the neglected station and neighbouring Lentegeur Station would be given a facelift at a cost of about R18-million.
The state-of-the-art lifts with built-in intercoms were installed at the station to raise people in wheelchairs from the bottom deck to the ticket sellers on the top deck of the station and then take them down to the platform to board a train, but these lifts have never been in operation.
They were part of the station’s R9-million makeover done in December 2004 to make it accessible to persons with disabilities.
Steven Otter, speaking on behalf of MEC Robin Carlisle, blamed these logistical failures on Fransman’s empty promises.
“Marius Fransman made a series of promises at municipal election time to various communities to do all sorts of things that he had no intention of doing, and which he often had no authority to do in the first place,” wrote Otter in a statement.
Otter further went on to say “we cannot be held responsible for electioneering campaign promises made by irresponsible politicians”.
According to Otter, the facelift of the station is Prasa’s mandate and the provincial transport department has no authority over Metrorail and Transnet.
“Any station upgrade would be the responsibility of one of these entities. We do contribute financially to some Metrorail projects – the nine fencing hotspots being a case in point – but in those instances the projects are run by Metrorail, not us,” said Otter.
“Metrorail should maintain the lifts,” commented Carlisle, before commenting further that he had met with Metrorail representatives and have promised him that when Metrorail rolls out its new stock of trains “the new trains must be disabled friendly”.
Metrorail manager Mthuthuzeli Swartz said Metrorail is in the process of establishing special needs passenger (SNP) desks at major information centres where literature, accessible information and assistance will be available.
“The rail operator maintains a register of users that require special assistance to ensure that station staff assists customers to travel with dignity. Commuters with specific requirements can register their requirements at a customer information desk,” said Swartz.
A woman, 40, who only gave her name as Nokuzola, who uses a wheelchair and lives in Mandalay said she decided to stop using trains because she felt her rights were not being taken seriously by the Transport Department.
“I was happy when I heard of the upgrade of the station but that was 10 years ago and the station is still the same, nothing has changed.
I am angry of course but there is nothing I can do because our voice as persons with disabilities is not heard in this country, it is like we don’t exist,” she said.
Nokuzola said when she was using the station when would wait for a commuter to take her up to the first floor then down to the platforms.
Now, she is using taxi and said it is very expensive but she has no choice.
The director of the Cape Town Association for the Physically Disabled, Bridget van der Merwe, said although she was not familiar with the Mandalay train station, “most (train) stations are problematic for people in wheelchairs”.
“Apart from the risk of falling, their dignity is compromised. People using public transport should do freely, regardless if they are disabled or not,” said Van der Merwe before adding that the Transport Department needed to act urgently on the issue.