Saturday, December 17, 2016

Case Of a Class Injustice

A weekend or two ago I went to visit my sister in Cape Town, and since my life is what it is, I had to take a taxi. No, not Uber, not American or British taxi, this is the kind that is supposed to sit sixteen but somehow (though not always) I find myself among the twenty or so that are lucky enough to have a seat with four other people squatting or standing somewhere packed like squashed loaves of bread.

For this particular trip I had a seat but I was unlucky because I found myself seated directly in front of the SDO (Sliding Door Operator). He insisted that we’re meant to be together forever and in due time I’ll realize how big a mistake I made by telling him to leave me alone and move along. This is all while he is sitting on the engine with his back to the passenger front seat and my legs between his. I suppose I should have been grateful for the SDO’s chatter because as soon as his chatter subsided I became painfully aware of the of the man beside me who had his arm on the backrest of the seat we shared and was sweating profusely onto my shoulder. I take taxis all the time and it always annoys me, but it’s not the fact that I had my legs between some stranger’s legs but because I realized some people have to go through this every day and some have been doing it for decades and it doesn’t change. The system does not care for the poor.

The taxi eventually dropped me off at another bus/taxi stop and I stood with a bunch of other people who, by the resigned and tired looks on their faces, had just clocked-off work and were on their way home. While I stood in the dark with strangers wondering whether my sister would eventually find me, I watched My Citi buses come and go on the other side of the road, and the group I stood with get smaller as they got on Golden Arrow buses and taxis on my side of the road, I felt anger brew slowly in my chest.

The My Citi bus service is part of an Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) system in Cape Town that is funded by the National Department of Transport’s Public Transport Infrastructure and Systems Grant. I’m not sure how the system actually works but I guess it works much like the Gautrain only it’s a bus.  You get a MyCiti Card and you load money on the card and you can use that card to take you on any of the routes that the bus covers so long as you have credits (or whatever) on the card. There are several My Citi stations spread out across Table View, Blaauwberg, Atlantis, Dunoon, Joe Slovo and Parklands. I probably missed a few but that’s not the point.  MyCiti buses have their own lane, that (as far as I’m concerned) other vehicles cannot use, the stations (I think that’s what they’re called) look rather fancy and cozy. The service (disregarding everything else) is what I hope the rest of public transport becomes.

The aim of the whole project is to reduce the use of private vehicles for everyday commute and consequently deal with traffic congestion and reduce carbon emissions. Throwing a tantrum because not everyone can use the bus service would not only be a waste of time but it would also be idiotic since the bus does not travel everywhere in the Western Cape.  But I’ll still throw a tantrum. The bus lane is not accessible to all public transport providers, i.e. taxis (yes, the sixteen/twenty-seater that I use) and other buses that aren’t MyCiti buses; the shelter that My Citi stations provide is only accessible to card holders, these two facts are the source of my grievance. So the rest of us that don’t have membership (or whatever it’s called) stand in the cold and watch those who can afford sit in fancy-shmancy MyCiti shelters across the road. My phone camera probably ranks among the worst but I hope the pictures below or above  (or somewhere on this page) still communicate my   point.

The claim that one of the main aims of the project is to reduce traffic congestion is a lie. Instead the project aims to save money for middle and upper class citizens (especially with the trend that fuel prices seem to following). The system was developed because private commute is not as convenient as it used to be!

If the aim of the project is truly to reduce traffic congestion it shouldn’t be so exclusive. The bus lane should be accessible to sixteen/twenty-seater taxis, jammies and other public transport providers! We can all agree that taxis can be annoying and are the cause of much road rage. Taxis have been around for decades if not centuries, they are used by lower class citizens. However, there are very few (if any) measures to improve the taxi system or public transport delivery to the poor. And because capitalism, class discrimination (and consequently racial discrimination) are in intrinsic part of the wretched system that governs our country efficient and effective solutions to social problems are tailored to benefit the middle and upper class. The very people that don’t particularly need these solutions.

It is no secret that quality service delivery to the lower class has never been a priority in South Africa, service delivery to the poor (especially in the Western Cape) is but a facade. Those that need the services the most are bypassed. The people whose tax is and was used to build public facilities don’t have access to the very same facilities that their money went towards building.

The system and the people that are part of the system that governs this country govern it in such a way that it benefits them and their peers and not for the benefit of the general public (especially the poor). This is just one case of a class injustice; the country is riddled with such cases. The next generation (our generation) has to do a better job at providing for the poor. Citizens that have a voice and an audience must speak up for those that don’t.

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