Disable battle with Dial-a-Ride

Nosiphiwe Mili from Nyanga waits outside her home for Dial-a-Ride to arrive.

While national Disability Rights Awareness Month is being commemorated until December 3, some disabled people are accusing the City’s Dial-a-Ride service of violating their human rights.

The City of Cape Town introduced the Dial-a-Ride service in 1998 to provide public service transport for people who have special needs and are unable to access conventional or mainstream public transport.

But users say the service is unreliable and despite having to book a bus one to two weeks in advance, they
are either left at their pick-up points or have to wait for hours to be collected.

Nyanga resident Nosiphiwe Mili, 24, who was born with paralysis due to a birth defect, said because of Dial-a-Ride, she had missed a number of doctors’ appointments, violating her right to health.

Ms Mili says she no longer depends on Dial-a-Ride but instead uses Bolt (Taxify), which she says burns a hole in her pocket.

“I live in New Crossroads, Nyanga and work at Epilepsy SA Western Cape in Lansdowne which is nearly 20 kilometres away and I only earn a stipend of R1 500.

“But I’d rather have it that way than be late or not arrive for work.”

She added that “making an appointment with Dial-a-Ride is challenging because operators are rude.”

Kraaifontein resident Deomicia du Preez, 29, said the service was pathetic and infringed on her right to education.

When Vukani’s sister paper, Northern News, visited her on Friday November 8, she was sitting in her motorised wheelchair waiting for her transport to arrive.

She said she had to make the appointment with Dial-a-Ride two weeks before and reminded them again the day before, because they had once forgotten her in Bellville, a few months back.

She added that she needed to be at class at 9am but her bus arrived at 9.44am.

“I am on a learnership and I need to prove that I can be a good student, including being on time but Dial-a-Ride is so unreliable I am always late, have to leave early or I am just completely forgotten about.”

Ms Du Preez said she gave up on “stressing about getting to class” but that all changed when she had her baby daughter Elianah, seven months ago.

“I have to persevere and be independent like I have always been. I need to give my daughter the best,” she said.

Disabled People South Africa’s (DPSA) administrator, Elroy Lodewyk, said he was aware of complaints that “Dial-a-Ride was unreliable” as many of his colleagues, members of the organisation and he himself have “on numerous occasions complained to the City about the bad service”.

He said Dial-a-Ride initially had 22 buses but when requesting the service now, “they say they cannot accommodate everyone across the city because there are only nine buses available”.

“The City preaches about overloading of taxis but Dial-a-Ride drivers are forcing more than five wheelchairs in one bus.”

He said the City needed to come up with solutions or remove the “unreliable service” altogether.

“A good idea is for the City to be transparent with users. We want facts not promises,” he said.

Mayoral committee member for transport, Felicity Purchase, said the City had a contract with the existing service provider, HG Travelling, until December 31 and is in the process of finalising an extension of the current contract.

“We are expecting additional vehicles to be on the road within a few weeks once some repairs on buses have been attended to.”

She said there were 13 vehicles in operation, nine Dial-a-Ride vehicles and four Quantum vehicles for users with other needs.

“The service works according to a booking system, meaning users have to book the service seven days in advance.

“This type of service requires a notice period for efficient scheduling as it is not a timetabled service. Passengers have to be grouped according to pick-up and drop-off locations. This is even more challenging as the fleet is not operating at capacity as yet.”

Because there was a reduced number of vehicles, she said, the operator must reschedule the bookings to accommodate as many passengers as possible.

“We are aware that this is inconvenient to users, but the City and the operator are doing their best to schedule this service as best possible given the current limitations,” she said.

The service has the capacity to carry 2 347 passengers, she said, and estimated that 7 700 trips were made a month.

“The service currently transports 350 regular users,” she said.

“In order to address users’ complaints and concerns, the transport directorate re-established the Dial-a-Ride Forum in August t to improve communication with the users.”

HG Travelling did not respond to questions and calls before this edition went to print.

How the service works:

Applicants wanting to make use of the Dial-a-Ride service are required to complete an application form, which is available on the City’s website.

Thereafter, they are required to undergo an assessment conducted by an independent occupational therapist in order to determine whether the applicant is able to use conventional public transport services or not.

Dial-a-Ride users are categorised as follows:

* Regular users who use the service on a daily basis to travel to work and school

* Regular ad-hoc users who use the service at least three times a week for hospital visits, etc.

* Ad-hoc users who use the service for travelling to church, etc.