By Tauhierah Salie
The City of Cape Town has failed to come to the party, following renewed complaints by users of the Dial-A-Ride Service over the past few weeks.
In April, around 80 disabled demonstrators marched to the City’s headquarters on the Foreshore to demand answers as to why “government is failing the disabled community.”
At the time, there were several complaints about the service, particularly relating to communication. Users expressed that they were left stranded for not being ready or the service showed up for collection despite cancellations or changes in times.
The City had instructed users to formally lodge their complaints to the Transport Information centre, but users report being put on hold for long periods of time, a lack of follow-ups and no action being taken even after they receive a case reference number.
Dial-A-Ride User Forum chairperson Elroy Lodewyk said the City has not been taking their concerns seriously, adding that users are not only disappointed but also frustrated.
“The sad part about this whole march was, it was a legal march but there was no traffic, metro or any police that was assisting with traffic control. That tells us that the City didn’t expect that amount of people because they instituted Dial-a-Ride to only transport 25 to 30 users,” said Lodewyk.
The City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Transport, Felicity Purchase, has been heavily criticized by the Disabled People of SA (DPSA) and the Dial-A-Ride Users Forum for being unavailable for meetings.
Purchase accepted a memorandum of demands on behalf of Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato, after demonstrators insisted that he come out on 16 April. Purchase had committed to responding within seven working days.
A statement released by the City the next day explained how the service operates and that there are financial constraints.
“The City has a limited budget and is currently engaging with the Western Cape Government to increase its subsidy. It is also requesting that National Government provides a financial contribution which will allow for an increase in capacity. 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,” said Purchase.
Meanwhile, the Western Cape High Court granted HG Travelling Services an interdict to set aside the awarding of the tender to a new service provider earlier this year, after their contract expired in June 2018.
Purchase said that HG Travelling Services was then contracted on a month-to-month basis to continue providing the Dial-a-Ride service.
Email communication between the manager of the Disability Desk at the Department of Social Development Jeremy Opperman and HG Travel Services General Manager Colleen Daniels, which VOC has seen, indicated that there has been a lack of accountability from the City.
HG Travels explained the outcome of their court case against the City.
“The result has been that the City has not opposed and has accepted that the tender process was flawed effectively. In summary we have won this battle but suffer due to the delays this has caused. They only recently indicated this, and the matter could eventually be closed. Had the tender process been fair, users as well as ourselves as the operator, would not have suffered such a fate for this extended period of time,” stated Daniels.
Daniels said the service is costly which “is not sustainable for a medium sized business.” The manger highlighted that the service has incurred losses as a result of covering the costs for users who do not pay their fares but is still committed to working with the City.
System under strain
An incident occurred at the beginning of the month which saw 72-year-old Mr Minaar being hospitalized after falling from the buses’ lifts twice due to technical errors. Users have also highlighted that the buses require maintenance. Both the City and HG Travels said there is insufficient transport, with Purchase conceding that this issue is being addressed.
“With 20 vehicles currently in operation, the system is oversubscribed and is under strain. 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. As a safe city, we prioritize the safety of the users. Ensuring that the vehicles are in good working condition is of utmost importance,” said Purchase.
Daniels noted that without urgent action, HG may not be able to continue providing the service.
“We unfortunately are not in a position, given the age of the vehicles, and lifts especially, to carry on for much longer, it is unsafe. We have indicated this to them on a few occasions as well as submitted a proposal to have the vehicles fixed to bring it to a condition fit for providing the service. They continue to hold us to the same terms and conditions of the original contract when it is clear these vehicles are beyond the contracted lifetime.”
On Monday, users received calls that they will not be provided transport, causing an outcry over the danger to their employment.
“I struggle with Dial-a-ride every day. When I make bookings, I phone in at 7’o clock and will be put on hold (for nearly an hour) and then I’m told it’s fully booked. Because of that I lose (out) I can’t go to work…I can’t even go for interviews,” exclaimed user Christina Simons.
“(An HG Travel Driver) phoned me to tell me a bus broke down (this morning) and he will be sending an Avanza to pick up the people. But I can’t get into the Avanza so I won’t be going,” said Florence Leonard.
“I’m at home because Dial-a-ride didn’t even let me know that we aren’t having transport to get to work… they didn’t even call. I didn’t receive any message from the office. I’m so frustrated I don’t even know how I’m going to get to work tomorrow. There is no communication, that’s the problem. I don’t know what’s happening in that office,” said user Zanele Mabayi.
HG Travels’ Daniels explained that the operator is concerned about the safety of their commuters.
“No new tender process has started as yet to our knowledge, but unfortunately, we are being forced into a corner to exercise our right to cancel on a month’s notice. Given the conditions we currently operate under, it not being sustainable for us and neither safe for users – our main concern. We therefore have to suffer by removing unsafe vehicles rather than putting any user at risk.”
Users anxiously await a response from the City, while Daniels pointed out that “it is unclear at this stage what the City’s next steps are regarding the tender.”
An email by the City’s media liaison officer Nomawethu Tshona on 05/06/19 stated that: “Alderman Purchase is not available for the interview (scheduled for 06/06/19). We will communicate about the Dial-a-Ride in due course.”
VOC has not received official comment from the City on the matter. The City has declined several attempts to conduct an interview. VOC