The closure of Muizenberg’s York Road level crossing threatens jobs, say business owners, and one of them has challenged a railway boss to use a wheelchair to reach the beach on one the alternative routes he has suggested.
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) closed the crossing after motors for the railway crossing gate were vandalised, said Richard Walker, the parastatal’s regional director.
But the move cut off access to businesses and the beachfront, not only for the able bodied, but especially for mothers with prams as well as the elderly, infirm and disabled.
Business owners in the area say they have seen a 30-40% drop in business since the railway crossing was locked and they are desperate to hold onto their staff.
Mr Walker’s response to the outcry was to offer the alternative use of the subway or the bridge. However, universal access to businesses on either side of the line is now limited to only one option.
In a wheelchair, one could – with difficulty – negotiate under Muizenberg bridge, up the steep incline on Atlantic Road, to Main Road, and around.
Mr Walker’s second suggestion is the subway, which he says gives both street-to-street access and access to the station platform. “Wheelchair users using the subway to gain access to the station platform can request assistance,” he told the False Bay Echo.
Except, the subway only has stairs, so it is neither wheelchair nor pram friendly.
Meanwhile, the only true wheelchair access to the station has been welded shut for more than seven years (Call on access to wheelchair friendly ramps, False Bay Echo, March 8, 2018)
Mr Walker ignored the question when asked how he would address the safety concerns of women afraid to use the subway.
Co-owner of The Corner Surf Shop, Tessa Moore, is beyond irate at the situation and has written personally to Prasa, spoken with other affected businesses in the area and raised the matter through various media outlets.
Lloyd Becker, co-owner of Harvest Cafe in York Road, said he too had called and emailed Prasa countless times; with no response.
Mr Becker said his business had suffered at least a 30 – 40% drop in turnover since the crossing had been locked and welded closed.
“This is a direct result of being cut off from Muizenburg beachfront. All beachgoers, walkers and surfers who used to park in the York Road parking area, now have to park in the already overcrowded main parking area, below the train line. The alternative routes are either a very long way round along the main road or are extremely dangerous, with vagrants and criminals loitering and sleeping in the subways. This is not an option,” he said.
All the businesses in York Road had been hurt and they might have to cut staff to stay afloat, he said.
Co-owner of Harvest Cafe, Irene Tassiopoulos put the wheelchair challenge to Mr Walker.
She described the subway as a disgusting den of tik heads and thieves that stank and housed the homeless at night and, by Mr Walker’s own admission, the lights were constantly stolen. (“Prasa should come to the party, False Bay Echo,” June 10)
“Yet, this is the route which he expects the public – be it the elderly, women on their own, and children, to take?” she said.
In typically Muizenberg fashion, there is now another way to cross the lines: just metres from the closed gate, the railway line’s fence has been cut with an angle grinder.
This crossing is so well used now that some secret good Samaritan has attached a pool noodle to the top fence, so tall people don’t hit their heads as they pass through.
Ms Tassiopoulos said the initial hole in the fence, used by the homeless, had remained unrepaired by Prasa for years. “This illegal gateway is probably more perilous than the unlocked gates themselves,” she said.
Hiring guards to man the gates while the trains were running could retain the flow of people going about their business, she said.
Peter Corbett, chairman of the Muizenberg Improvement District, said the crossing was a vital link between parking and businesses on both sides of the railway line.
“As has been strongly stated by those businesses on the Main Road side of the crossing, this closure is causing significant financial stress. The crossing has been in existence for probably close to 100 years and assists the beach economy of a major tourism asset, of not just Cape Town, but of South Africa,” he said.
Tourists would not use the parking on the Main Road side if it meant having to use a grubby and lengthy alternative route, he said.
“The attitude of Prasa is offhand and unacceptable. I seriously question their assessment of the frequency of vandalism and in particular of the theft of motors. Repairs are simply a cost of doing business and to give the public two fingers as they have is not an attitude one would expect from a public body which Prasa is,” he said.
The only other solution was to go to court for an order for repairs to be urgently undertaken.
Believe in Schatzi Organisation (BISO) spokesperson Kevin Rack thanked residents and businesses highlighting accessibility issues.
“We hope you will continue to highlight these issues of active discrimination in and around Muizenberg and in your businesses. The York Road crossing is not wheelchair friendly at all, the railway crossing is not compliant.“
In 2018 Biso went on record to show that wheelchairs’ front wheels all got caught in the tracks because the gaps between the concrete and the tracks are too wide.They expressed grave concern about the safety for wheelchair users at this crossing.