The Acting Chairperson noted that there were problems with transport for persons with disabilities.
The Department of Transport spoke about legislation and policy that protected persons with disabilities, the categories of ‘persons with special needs’, the programme of action, universal access design, public transport funding and implementation of universal access design plans. It stated that most existing public transport systems were not accessible to persons with disabilities.
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) stated that there were problems with access when it came to rail and a special needs policy had been developed. PRASA had been working on modernization of certain corridors, platform alignments and station upgrades.
Members complained there was an excess of planning and a lack of implementation of initiatives plus no time frames given; where could persons with disabilities reporting cases of discrimination to do with transport; the number of persons with disabilities employed in the Department of Transport; difference in ticket cost between MetroRail and the Gautrain; if old buses could be fixed and given to communities, if the country had the engineering capacity to produce transport for people with disabilities. The socio economic disparity in the country needed to be taken into account. UN stated that South Africa had some of the worst conditions in the world for persons with disabilities.
The Department of Women Children and Persons with Disabilities spoke to various matters including the need for road maps for UN Convention implementation as few departments had done a conscious analysis of their commitment to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It outlined matters raised during the public hearings, the mandate given to the Department by way of the provisions of the Convention, the plans that came with increased capacity in 2014 and what had been achieved in light of the current capacity constraints. The Department said that it needed to be given money if the country was to honour its obligations in terms of disabilities. Members asked about vacancies and the process for the Country Report on persons with disabilities.
The Acting Chairperson said it was clear that people with disabilities had a great number of challenges in using transport. There was a need to hear from the Department of Transport what the plan was for them. There was a need to ensure no one was being discriminated against.
The Chairperson of the Transport Portfolio Committee welcomed the interaction and stated it was long overdue. The Department of Transport needed to take into account South Africa had an integrated development approach where different departments needed to develop a common strategy for tackling issues.
Department of Transport (DOT) presentation
Mr Mathabatha Mokonyama, DOT Deputy Director General: Public Transport, referred to legislation and policy which required provision for passengers with special needs. These included the National Land Transport Act 2009 [Sections 5(4) and 8], the Public Transport Strategy 2007, the Implementation Strategy to Guide the Provision of Accessible Public Transport Systems in South Africa (Accessible Public Transport Strategy) updated in 2011 (Chapter 7, 7.5), the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 2000 [Chapter 5, Section 25, 1(c) iii)]. There was also an international obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UN Convention), signed by South Africa in 2007.
Mr Mokonyama outlined that passengers with special needs were identified as: people with disabilities, the aged, pregnant women, young children, those who were limited in their movements by children, signage passengers (cannot read), female passengers, load carrying passengers.
Problems with existing public transport systems included:
• Pre-travel confidence and information – lack of info to give passenger confidence that trip can be made.
• Origin to point of access – poor provision/maintenance of public facilities (sidewalks, directional signage).
• Point of access – difficulties identifying the vehicle needed for travel and distinguishing vehicle destination.
• Boarding and alighting - vehicles generally inaccessible, overcrowding and dwell time of vehicles at stops.
• On-board the vehicle – unsafe speeds, lack of restraint systems.
The Programme of Action on Accessible Public Transport was an internal working document which developed the Accessible Public Transport Strategy into a series of programmes to be implemented over time. The request for its development came from the Deputy Minister of Transport in 2010.
The presentation gave a progress report on implementation which covered public transport funding outlining the public transport infrastructure systems grant framework, the Public Transport Operations Grant Framework and the rural road asset management grant. It covered the Universal Design Access Plans and their implementation and spoke about access auditors and access consultants. An access consultant advises on how the requirements of passengers with special categories of need can be incorporated into the design and management of the built environment and transport systems.
Mr Enos Ngutshane, Executive Manager: Operational Safety, PRASA, said the rail industry had come a long way with issues of access. In 1999 a policy had been developed termed ‘Special needs passengers’ which had been adopted by the Board. When the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities was adopted in 2006, PRASA linked their policy to this convention. The organisation was working on corridor modernisation and 20 stations had been identified for phase one upgrade in 2012/13. There were plans to align platforms removing any gaps between the train and the station. Stations had been identified in the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal. Mr Ngutshane outlined which station upgrades were complete and which partial, which corridors had been modernized, the total number of stations to be upgraded before the end of 2012 and the plans for Gautrain in terms of access.
Mr Ngutshane identified the way forward stating that PRASA needed to develop a comprehensive universal design access plan (however a workshop was being scheduled to address this).
Planning and Implementation
Ms Ngele (ANC) from the Portfolio Committee on Transport, stated that there was a difference between planning and implementation and she was concerned that there was little implementation. There was also the matter of escalators when accessing the Gautrain. There was no other means to navigate the stations other than escalators especially at Malboro Station. PRASA had said a great deal about what they were going to do but now things needed to be done.
Mr Mokonyama replied that this was a transfer station and there was no need to rush as there would be another train within five minutes. It was not designed for people to rush onto the waiting train.
Mr D Kenana (ANC) saidthe White Paper for Disability had come and gone and the United Nations had declared South Africa as having the worst conditions for people with disability in the world. This had taken into account poverty, living conditions, working conditions and the like. It seemed as if South Africa was still in the planning stage. A great number of people could not grasp employment opportunities due to transport challenges. It would be nice if the implementation was fast tracked.
The Acting Chairperson said that with PRASA one could witness movement in terms of projects. However the Department still seemed to be at the planning stage and there were no time frames and there was no indication as to how long it would take. She argued that even though PRASA was still planning there were simple things that could be done in the mean time. These included awareness campaigns for communities about what the Department intended to do.
Mr Mokonyama replied that the remaining slides spoke to hard evidence of real initiatives. The Bus Rapid Transit lines were accessible. The entrance onto the bus and the platform were the same level and there was space at the back of the buses for wheel chairs and sound information systems for those with hearing impediments, amongst other things. The real issue was that of cost. These systems had a life span of around five years. It was also dependant on the amount of money coming in. If the money came in at the pace it currently did then it would take longer to roll out the phases. The government needed to come in, in terms of support. There was a Transformation Plan that was coming and the type of vehicle would be dictated by the volume and the distance.
Monitoring and tracking
The Acting Chairperson asked if there were any mechanisms that tracked how many people were being discriminated against? It was not clear as to how the Department was getting in touch with the man on the street. They seemed to be inaccessible to these people.
Employment of disabled persons
Ms G Tseke (ANC) asked what information could be given by the Department of Transport on the number of people with disabilities employed within the Department of Transport? What were their levels of employment, were they in senior positions or in the lower ranks?
Mr Mokonyama replied that the Department had been at a target of 2% but with the restructuring, it was down to 1.9%. They hoped the vacancies that were there would take the Department of Transport back to the minimum requirements.
Ms Hellen Mnguni, DOT Director: Capacity Development, replied that the Department of Transport had a disability policy which was still in its draft stages and going for consultation in order to refine it. In order to reach the target, each department had been instructed to retain 2% of its vacant posts for people with disabilities. Issues of suitable accommodation had been taken care of but she could not state everything that had been done. She cited that wheelchairs had been bought, audio equipment had been fitted and there were also workplace programmes as well as a disability forum. Employees were also being encouraged to disclose their disability status in order to customize assistive devices. There were also carrier awareness sessions primarily to schools for children with disabilities which had been done across seven provinces. Staff were encouraged to attend workplace programmes and ensure they attended annual conferences to keep them up to date in developments and trends and so influence workplace programmes and policies.
Ms Tseke asked how persons with disabilities could seek recourse if they were discriminated against.
Mr Mokonyama replied there was not any call centre to complain but there was a need for something of that nature. At the moment the switchboard was being used. There was a need for a dedicated customer care section for persons with disabilities.
MetroRail and Gautrain
The Chairperson of the Transport Portfolio Committee asked for a distinction between a Gautrain and MetroRail train so as to indicate the difference in fares. Also what was the plan to upgrade MetroRail in the corridor between Johannesburg to Pretoria as well as the townships? There was a need for improved transport infrastructure that served communities.
Mr Ngutshane replied that the Gautrain was a system operated by Bombela Concession Company with the aim of transferring this back to government at some stage. Government’s role had been at a minimum at this stage but there had been attempts to integrate their systems. Government operated heavy rail whilst Bombela operated light rail but this alignment did exist.
Mr Mokonyama replied Gautrain was [R49] and MetroRail was R28 between Pretoria and Johannesburg. An analysis on this would be given.
Ms Ngele said that there were thousands of old bus models why did these models not get sent to places without transport instead of trying to procure new buses.
Mr Kekana asked if there was engineering capacity to produce our own coaches within the country. Perhaps there was a need to import coaches that were readily accessible to people with disabilities or if the country could produce their own, then there was a need to do so. The new trains should have had all these facilities.
Mr Ngutshane repliedthat there was the engineering capacity within the country. The system being operated was 1958 technology. There had been refurbishment of couches and the building of new trains. The country had built new trains, however not for South Africa but for Malaysia and Taiwan. Due to the lack of investment by the government into the rail sector, it had been somewhat lost. However with the new investment of approximately R125 billion back into the backbone of rail the capacity would be resuscitated. There was the capacity.
Economic and Social Context of Transport.
The Chairperson of Transport Portfolio Committee said there was a need to move from the broad understanding that there were four modes of transport and the presentation had been confined to two modes of transport, road and rail. Transport in South Africa was the heartbeat for social and economic development in communities. There was also a need to understand that railways as a mode of transport were the future backbone of transport in South Africa, all other transport modes were playing a complementary role. There was a need to understand how inequalities came to be in South Africa due to racially different groups. The minorities were dominant in the aviation mode of transport and it did not reflect the demographics of the country. The other form of inequality came in the form of class. Geographical location also affected inequality. A person in the rural areas did not identify with Gautrain or with flying. The same happened in the townships. The reversal of this needed to be at the centre of plans for the country. The real issue was lack of subsidisation of transport in the country. If different modes were subsidised, more people could access the different modes. One needed to deal with the role of National Treasury in this initiative. The problem was not the absence of the plan but lack of funding that Cabinet had approved.
The Acting Chair said it was clear that there was movement in terms of disability. The Department of Transport had good plans but nothing could be done if Treasury did not provide funding. It was important to prioritise as there was not much money. She urged the Department of Transport to speak about the work that was being done through the use of radio and the like. It was important for people to hear there were good things happening. She thanked those from the Transport Portfolio Committee for attending.
Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities (DWCPD) presentation
Ms Thadeka Mxenge, Acting Director General, begun by saying that she wanted to reiterate that implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) required a deliberate and conscious decision to put more funding into departments such as the DWCPD. It currently operated on a budget of R150 million of which R53 million went to the Commission of Gender Equality. For the DWCPD to implement the CRPD then they needed money and the support of Parliament to access such funding.
Mr Mzolisi Toni, Deputy Director of Persons with Disabilities, stated that departments/entities were unable to provide a road map towards implementing the CRPD, with clear targets, deliverables, budget allocations. The focus was more on an ad hoc basis. Very few departments, provinces, public entities, municipalities – and even disability organisations – appeared to have done a conscious analysis of the implications of the CRPD on their mandates, legislation and policies, as well as programmes and services. There was a lack of ownership and responsibility. The disability sector’s capacity to effectively represent their constituencies through participation in planning, implementation and monitoring processes appeared to have been severely impaired, in particular at provincial and local level. The testimonies delivered during the public hearings were generally reflective of the reality experienced by the majority of persons with disabilities, particularly in rural and disadvantaged communities. It amplified the experiences of DWCPD when conducting frontline and outreach visits to provinces, as well as intervening on behalf of individuals who appealed to the DWCPD
The public hearings had reminded the country that whilst South Africa was instrumental in the development of the CRPD and whilst we were amongst the first to ratify the Convention and its optional Protocol, the country has still a long way to go. He outlined the mandate of the DWCPD and the relevant United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities articles which included:
Article 4: Transversal Legislation and Policy Development (Advocacy & Mainstreaming)
Article 4: Disability Rights Research (Advocacy & Mainstreaming; Monitoring & Evaluation)
Article 8: Awareness Raising (Advocacy & Mainstreaming)
Article 9: Accessibility (Universal Access) (Advocacy & Mainstreaming)
Article 33: National Coordination and Monitoring
Article 35: Reporting
Articles 4 & 33: Participation/self representation by Persons with Disabilities (Institutional Support & Capacity Development)
He outlined what was highlighted in the public hearings in the consolidation and coordination, monitoring and evaluation, the promotion, protection and upholding of persons with disabilities and capacity development. He noted where the DWCPD was in terms of the various articles as well as what was possible in light of the current capacity. The presentation showcased what the DWCPD felt they could achieve with increased capacity in 2014. The public hearings had been a call to action.
Mr D Kekana (ANC) asked about the vacancies. He did not understand why the positions were unfilled as there was money for them which would build capacity.
Ms Mxenge replied that the positions had not been funded because the DWCPD had been over spending. As part of the turnaround strategy, there had been principles agreed upon with Treasury. Even if a DWCPD unit had money but since the Department overall was over spending, then there was a need to be conscious of that. The budget was looked at as a whole. The position had not been filled to avoid over expenditure.
Ms G Tseke said the public hearings had made the Committee aware that there was still a great deal lacking in terms of awareness, especially in educating officials on the Protocol. It was the responsibility of the DWCPD to address these matters. The focal points in provinces did not have power. They were based in different offices (such as the Office of the Premiers) in different provinces. She did not think the focal points in provinces understood their mandate. There was a need to educate them on it.
Mr Toni replied that the lack of awareness was noted. It was an area the Department wanted to improve on through the development of institutional arrangements and machinery. This also had to do with how the focal points were approached. When the Department reached the municipalities and provinces through the institutional arrangements, information was correlated in regards to where these focal points were and at what level they were. This allowed for the development of a report which the Minister could take and present at Cabinet.
Country report on People with Disabilities
Ms G Tseke asked if the country report was with Cabinet.
Mr Toni replied the Cabinet report was not with Cabinet but had entered the Cabinet process, namely introduced to the cabinet clusters. Once it was understood then it would go through to Cabinet and then Cabinet would bring it to Parliament. Parliament would then, at that point, be able to decide whether there should be public hearings on the report. The DWCPD was trying to avoid the situation of a shadow report given by civil society. The UN Convention required that the country report presented at the United Nations had the voice of civil society included and the DWCPD was pushing to make sure that happened.
The Acting Chairperson thanked the DWCPD for their report. It seemed that on the issue of persons with disabilities there was movement despite the stagnation in the other parts of the Department. There was a need for balance and to prioritise.
The meeting was adjourned.
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