The GO GEORGE bus service was presented as a case study of the integrated public transport network that has made most progress in moving towards universal access (UA) in public transport at the annual National Disability Rights Machinery (NDRM) meeting recently held in Pretoria. This annual meeting attended by key government officials, reviews progress and discusses legislation, action programmes and future developments on the rights of people with disabilities.
According to Amanda Gibberd, responsible for universal design and universal access in the National Department of Transport, the Department recommended that GO GEORGE be chosen as the best example to present at the meeting.
“GO GEORGE is the integrated public transport network (IPTN) that has showed the most progress in reaching universal accessible public transport, with the smallest amount of grant funding of all the 13 IPTN municipalities receiving funding. GO GEORGE has demonstrated commitment and dedication to implementing an accessible transport system for the entire municipal network and continues to improve the passenger journey and experience. That is what we notice and appreciate, and what we wanted to convey to the other stakeholders at the NDRM meeting,”; she said.
James Robb, GO GEORGE Manager, presented the case study at the meeting. “The attendees were most impressed by our efforts, the amount of work we have been doing thus far and the thought going into planning,” he said. “Apart from the accessibility of our vehicles and infrastructure as a whole, they also reacted very positively to the amount and inclusivity of the public awareness programme by GO GEORGE through print media and on social media. They were particularly impressed with our interactive and visual interactive communication strategies such as the GO GEORGE board games of which one is used for driver training and another to educate primary school learners, as well as our comic strips, flyers and newspaper columns.”
According to Robb, the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services particularly commended GO GEORGE for elements like the ReadSpeaker function on their website. “They encouraged continued consideration of these kinds of communication aids. The disability sector made a renewed call upon stakeholders to be consulted when planning UA elements, which we fully support. As a matter of fact, consulting people with disabilities when designing and refining the GO GEORGE service and accessibility elements has become part of the process,” he said.
What is universal access?
Universal access refers to the ability of all people to have equal opportunity and access to a service or product from which they can benefit, regardless of their social class, ethnicity, ancestry as well as their age, gender and whether or not they have a disability. Under South African law and in terms of international commitments that have been made, passengers with different ways of moving (children, young people, the elderly, people with disabilities, people carrying babies or shopping, pregnant women, etc.) must be able to use public transport services with dignity.
How is GO GEORGE implementing UA?
According to Robb, being universally accessible is about much more than being able to get on the bus. “Most people know that we provide accessible boarding through the ramps and hoists on our buses, and that priority seats are reserved for passengers with special needs. However, we also have to consider the condition of the sidewalks that people have to use to get to the bus, the placing of shelters on narrow sidewalks and the space left for mobility devices.
“We have to consider the bus stop sign and paving at the bus stop that has to communicate to the blind passenger where to wait, at the same time not causing obstruction. We also take into account the proximity of bus stops to pedestrian crossings, and in the future, we must look at the planning of our city to make sure people can easily access their destinations. We have to consider making public space safe, easy and pleasant to use, including contrasting colours on what we call ‘street furniture’ and wayfinding signage, to maximise visibility.”
Robb pointed out that universal access is more complex than many people think, “but it is a challenge that GO GEORGE gladly accepts and tackles with enthusiasm”.