Ms Helga Koch who graduated with a Master’s
degree in Development Studies.

Ms Helga Koch, who graduated with a Master’s degree in Development Studies, explored factors influencing the public transport service provision for people with disabilities in eThekwini.

Koch was motivated by an awareness of the many barriers disabled people face when they participate fully within society.  Her study recognises that transport is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

‘It is a complicated system and therefore it is explored in this study from the perspective of the various stakeholders – namely persons with disabilities, the operators and owners of public transport systems, and city officials, consultants and experts in the field.’

The results indicate that people with disabilities are excluded from public transport and experience challenges in each step of the travel chain.  These challenges include money, the attitude of the transport operators and passengers, as well as the inaccessibility of the vehicles and built environment.

‘This in turn contributes to occupational marginalisation, occupational deprivation, occupational apartheid and limited occupational choice, which is related to not being able to pursue various occupations, being isolated, feeling powerless and having a reduced sense of well-being,’ said Koch.

‘The eThekwini Municipality is in the process of planning and implementing the Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network, however there are concerns about this future system and the lack of Accelerated Modal Upgrading and other measures to improve the current system.  There needs to be a greater commitment to addressing public transport service provision holistically, so that those with disabilities can fully participate as citizens in society.’ said Koch.

Reflecting on her research, Koch said: ‘I absolutely loved the fieldwork, being able to get people’s stories and develop an in-depth understanding of their daily realities.  And some of these are really horrific.  One interviewee who was blind shared that he had once been left in the middle of the road after being dropped off by a taxi whilst the traffic light was green. 

‘He literally had no idea what was going on, and just knew that cars were passing by him on either side; his guide dog edging ever closer, indicating he mustn’t move.  Eventually someone pulled him out of the road to safety.’

Koch’s study further highlighted the incredible power of the taxi industry, and the interplay between their members and the municipality.  ‘Even though the municipality has wonderful plans for the future, they need to be aware and open-minded about trying different ways of negotiating, discussing, and ensuring that all partners are on board,’ she added.

Koch had also undergone the most difficult times in her life during her studies.  ‘My aunt who was like my second mother passed away, I was in a serious relationship which ended with a lot of heartache and I also got very sick.’ 

She expressed her sincerest gratitude to her family, friends, supervisor Ms Catherine Sutherland and the University’s Occupational Therapy discipline.