People with disability should have the same right to use public transport as everyone else. VCOSS has had a long history of advocacy for improved public transport in Victoria, including for accessibility improvements to the public transport system. Therefore VCOSS is concerned by the application by the Australian Railways Association (ARA) application to the Human Rights Commission applying for an exemption from the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport. If successful, this would lower the requirements on ARA members such as Metro Trains, V/Line trains and Yarra Trams to comply with Federal regulations that aim to reduce discrimination for people with disability on public transport.
VCOSS has provided a submission to the application process setting out reasons why the application should not be supported by the Human Rights Commission.
Many people with disability are among Australia’s most disadvantaged. VCOSS advocacy for systemic change that improves the lives of people with a disability is informed by a social model of disability, which understands the disadvantage and discrimination experienced by people with disability is not created by their impairments, but by the physical and social environment in which they live. Part of this understanding is that when the built environment is not designed for universal use, people with disability are prevented from living like other people in our society, physically and socially separating them as ‘different’ people with ‘special’ needs.
The capacity for people with disability to move freely in their lives is fundamental to their ability to live with dignity and meaning. Being able to move freely means people can reach valuable destinations, including for employment, education, healthcare, community services, and to engage in social relationships and community activity. Barriers to this freedom of movement, such as being prevented from using public transport services, reduces the opportunities for people with disability to access valuable opportunities, which contributes to their unequal status in society.
The ARA has applied for very broad exemptions from the Transport Standards, and at the same time are advocating for a permanent reduction in the requirements on train and tram services to be accessible. The exemptions, if granted, would require fewer access paths, allow narrower pathways and doors, reduce required manoeuvring space and rest areas, reduce requirements for accessible toilets, not require tactile ground surface indicators, and reduce the requirements for lighting, signage and hearing loops.
We are particularly concerned that these exemptions have been requested very widely, especially for operators who do not require them or have already met the standards, or for new procurements, or recently purchased or upgraded facilities. In the case where the Commission was considering granting any exemption, we have suggested these apply in far more limited circumstances, with additional responsibilities to report publicly and provide alternative transport options for people unable to use the transport as a result.
A full copy of the VCOSS submission to the Australian Railways Association application for exemption from the Transport Standards can be viewed on our website.