04 April 2011

Accessible Transport

The Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) has published a brief report [PDF] on its December 2010 Free To Move: VCOSS Accessible Transport Forum, which brought together 80 people from accessibility advocacy entities, transport users with disabilities, community service organisations, local government representatives, transport service providers and government for a discussion regarding continuing concerns regarding access to public transport in the years after the VCOSS Accessible Transport Watch Project report in 2008.

VCOSS noted that -
Everyone should be able to get to where they need to be, whether it's to work, shop, attend doctors or other services, visit friends or enjoy a day out. Being able to 'get there' is a basic requirement for a good life. We all need good transport choices so we can participate in and contribute to our communities.

But these choices aren’t available to many people in Victoria today. Not everyone can drive a car, or afford to have one. Not everyone can rely on family and friends for lifts, or afford to pay for taxis when they need them – even if they get subsidised fares. And many are unable to use public transport, which should be accessible to all who live in the community.

Accessible transport options are needed for people as they get older and become frail, if they have impaired mobility, use a trolley to get their shopping home, or use pushers and prams for their children. With an ageing population and a rising rate of disability, these options are becoming increasingly important.
Key findings from the Forum are -
Accessibility Planning Processes

1 The Disability Standards for Access to Public Transport should be one mechanism among many to improve the useability of the transport system, and should not be the only consideration in achieving greater accessibility

2 Accessibility should be incorporated into planning processes systematically, with a long-term vision for the future accessibility of the system

3 Transport infrastructure planning requires a conceptually coherent framework for understanding and integrating the needs of transport users

Accessibility Improvements in Public Transport

1 There are continuing barriers to using wheelchairs and scooters on public transport vehicles, including ensuring stability, ensuring access to designated spaces, provision of information on the use of mobility aids and issues regarding the use of aids that do not meet current public transport standards

2 Providing level access boarding on public transport vehicles remains a key challenge for the system

3 There continue to be concerns about the accessibility of public transport passenger infrastructure, including ramps and lifts, toilets, TGSIs , and connecting pedestrian pathways

4 There are suggestions for improvements in interactions between staff and transport users with disabilities, and problems with vehicle queuing, late services and managing cancellations.

5 There remains additional work to ensure everyone can navigate the transport system

6 Timetables and scheduling should indicate the availability of accessible services, and be provided in useable formats

Governance and Community Engagement

1 The proposed Public Transport Development Authority (PTDA) needs an appropriate level of commitment, political support and funding in order to prioritise accessibility improvements and co-ordinate accessible services across the transport system

2 The PTDA needs to be accountable, and transparency would be improved by a regular program of accessibility audits whose findings are made public

3 Transport Agencies require improved communication, consultation and complaints handling procedures to improve their knowledge of accessibility concerns

Community Capacity and Advocacy Strategies

1 There is fragmented capacity among accessibility advocacy communities, and addressing this lack of communication should be a priority in the community response to accessibility issues

2 There is a role for VCOSS in facilitating advocacy co-ordination for accessible transport

3 Public advocacy should be included as a mechanism to ensure accessibility issues are prioritised
Those findings reflected the VCOSS 'Top Ten Problems with Transport Access in Victoria' -
1. Funding improvements

The previous Government promised $150 million for accessible public transport, but didn’t allocate funds in the State Budget. The new Government has not yet committed funding for upgrades.

2. Meeting the access standard

The previous Government failed to reach the legal targets for accessible transport in 2007, and would not commit to meeting them in 2012. The Coalition Government should make this a priority.

3. Knowing when and where to travel

It is often hard to find out when and where accessible services are available. The Metlink website is difficult to navigate, and it can be difficult to track where level-access tram stops are, or when low-floor trams will be scheduled. It is even harder for people who don’t use the internet. Timetables at bus and tram stops can be too small to read, and don’t indicate accessible services. Many people struggle to find out if they will be able to move between the train station and the bus stop they need.

4. Finding services

Knowing where to go to catch a train, particularly at multi-platform stations, can be difficult because signs are often not available or are unclear. Small writing, lack of tactile signage and misleading Tactile Surface Indicators, and lack of audible announcements all cause problems at stations and stops for people with visual impairments.

5. Getting on and off

The gap between trains, trams and buses and the platform or stop is a major concern for many travellers. On trains, it is a major safety risk, including for people who are frail or ambulatory or visually impaired, and for small children. Some train stations have narrow platforms at the wheelchair boarding point. Even where low-floor trams meet a platform stop, the gap can still be too large for some mobility aids. Staff may not realise that a person needs assistance, or passengers do not know to make space. Boarding with or storing prams, trolleys, scooters and luggage can also be issues.

6. Knowing when to get off

Some transport services, including SmartBuses and main train services, have good automatic displays and audible announcements. All too often, however, these services are not fitted, functioning, or clear.

7. Using important facilities

Access to facilities in and around public transport hubs can be major issues for people with disabilities or impaired mobility. Some ramps do not meet standards, and lifts are subject to vandalism, have very limited space, or may be broken down. Ticketing machines may be inaccessible or hard to navigate. Some rural and regional services require 24 hours notice for people with mobility impairments to use them. There are sometimes concerns about adequate seating. Many Victorians also continue to be frustrated that they must ask permission to use accessible train station toilets.

8. Improving areas around stations and stops

Lack of pedestrian, interchange and parking infrastructure is preventing people from using public transport. While stations or stops might be accessible, the paths to get to them aren’t, or it is not easy to change between transport modes. Some stations have poor parking options for people with disabilities, or no place to drop off people with impairments to catch the train.

9. Feeling safe and accessing help

The ability to attract the attention of public transport staff to ensure people can board, disembark or if they require assistance can be difficult on some vehicles, particularly when stop buttons malfunction. Poor lighting, safety concerns at isolated locations and vehicle instability can make passengers fearful of injury and personal safety.

10. Improving vehicle design

To ensure public transport is safe for all, attention needs to be paid to the configuration of passenger vehicles, so that there is adequate space for mobility aids, prams and luggage; clear understanding of priority seating allocation; sufficient grab-rails for stability; and ensuring that design takes into account that passengers move differently where there are people with mobility aids.