The Executive Mayor of George, Charles Standers, together with national and provincial officials, local dignitaries and people with special needs celebrated the arrival of the first accessible GO GEORGE minibus on 22nd April 2015. A special unveiling ceremony was held on the grass terrace at the George Civic Centre where guests were entertained by the skilled performance of the Carpe Diem Electric Dancers, a group of children from the Carpe Diem School for children with special needs.
The minibus is the first of its kind aimed at accommodating people with special needs, and has been designed to order by the George Integrated Public Transport Network (GIPTN). The rest of the order of 30 minibuses is still to come, but after it’s unveiling on Wednesday, this first bus will in the meantime be used to train bus drivers.
The GO GEORGE project is the first non-metro Integrated Public Transport Network in the country. The vehicle fleet consists of a mixed fleet of minibuses, midi and standard buses that allow for system optimisation by using the correct vehicle type during the appropriate time of day, thereby reducing the overall operational cost of the system.
“The challenge is ensuring that all vehicles allow all users, including those with special categories of needs, to be able to use the system at any point in time during the day,” says GO GEORGE manager, James Robb. “While the midi and standard buses were able to achieve accessibility with relative ease, given the extensive use both locally and internationally, the minibus, however, was not as simple, given what was available on the local vehicle market.”
With the goal of providing accessible transport to all communities for 18 hours per day, the GO GEORGE team, comprising members of the George Municipality, engineering company Aurecon, Mercedes Benz South Africa (the vehicle supplier for the GO GEORGE fleet), together with their vehicle body builders, TFM Solutions, have worked together to develop an accessible minibus solution that has been accepted by the National Department of Transport.
“This outcome has significant implications for the provision of accessible public transport in the City of George, given its mix of urban and rural environment,” says Robb.
The minibus is able to accommodate 15 seated passengers and a driver, or 13 seated passengers and one wheelchair or other mobility device. A wheelchair bay with two flip-up seats is provided. Access to the vehicle for passengers is through a hydraulically operated front passenger door, while access for the wheelchair is through a hydraulically controlled sliding door with a hydraulic hoist which can be utilised by wheelchairs or persons with mobility needs. Both doors and the hoist are operated remotely by the driver. An accessible aisle to designated priority seating and standard universal access design elements and features have been incorporated into the minibus layout.
The vehicle will be used on low-demand routes throughout George, with particular focus on the more rural environments.