Mauritius is part of the 2019 Voluntary National Review (VNR) of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development. The Government has decided to present its VNR on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) during the 2019 session of the HLPF which will address the theme of ‘’Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality’’. This article focuses on the effect of public transport on the independence and autonomy of older people.
Organisations defending the rights of older people have often, in the written press or on the radios, complained about the safety or the absence of it in the public bus transport. The political decision to offer free transport to our fellow senior citizens is laudable. Senior citizens have the freedom to travel for free for pleasure and leisure, but more importantly to go to the dispensary or hospital.
Free transport was expected to ensure safe and regular mobility of older people, people with disabilities and those who otherwise would have given up going out thus keeping their potentials locked. Older persons have the right of autonomy and independence and free transport has the potential to prevent loss of personal mobility and social inclusion.
My encounter with several of older bus users has brought a sad list of common incidents involving them, such as facing the impatience or insults of the driver who is in a hurry to reach the next stop, the conductor ‘instructing’ « ale mem deryer » inside a very narrow corridor while the bus is on the move. There is the inability of the older passenger to hold the strap meant for standing passengers, and the high risk of a near fall. Getting down the bus carries its load of ‘pressure’ not to say ‘insults’: ‘degaze desann’’. The passenger is often confused as through which door to alight, at the front or center.
On occasions, critics are levelled against older persons who travel ‘pou naryen’, aimlessly. Interestingly, the owner of a bus pass is a fortunate and proud person. Where is the problem if he or she has planned to visit a dear and near one not met for years? Meeting these close ones in a new setting prevents social isolation, enhances a new taste of life, and retards depression if this is looming in the corner. Cases of newly retired employees falling prey to alcohol and sense of rejection are common occurrences in our midst. An attitude can change it all.
Younger and older people moving on wheelchairs and using crutches cannot access our public buses. We are depriving them of basic rights: the right to autonomy and independence, and to participate in the affairs of the country of right. The obstacles are many: 4-5 steps to climb up and to get down 10-year-old buses, the step of the ‘lower bus floor’ is not appropriately low and no reserved area has been provided to adjust a wheelchair. Well abled people do not give their seats to elderly citizens who have to endure a distance that could cause undue harm, physical and psychological. In England, sitting on a wheelchair in a bus is like sitting on any seat inside the same bus. This is basic equality.
Accessing a building is as problematic as climbing a bus. Older persons and persons with disabilities cannot access offices due to lack of proper lift, international and Braille signage. We often by-pass the rights of these people who are talented musicians, inspiring leaders, pragmatic managers, models of craftsmen and women and we do not pre-empt the impact their action can have on our well-being, ethos, behaviour as a nation, our economy.
SDG 10 reads: By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, religion or economic or other status?
How far are we near?
President of the Commission
for the Rights of Older People