Ray Jordan is the facilitator of All Aboard, a group of accessibility advocates and community organisations who work together to improve the accessibility of the Victorian public transport network.
- plan a journey
- get to boarding point
- board safely and efficiently
- pay fares
- ride safely
- know where they are during the journey
- recognise their destination
- alight safely
- make easy connections.
A snapshot of public transport accessibility in Victoria would show that although improvements have been made in all of the above areas in recent years, much more work needs to be done to ensure that all people are able to use public transport. Examples of accessibility problems on Victorian public transport include:
- Less than 30 per cent of Melbourne’s trams are accessible by wheelchair or scooter users, or anyone unable to climb large steps
- Most of Melbourne’s trams do not have onboard audible and visual passenger information displays to inform passengers of where they are or where they are going
- Most of Victoria’s buses do not have onboard audible or visual information about location or destination
- Many V/Line trains have very limited wheelchair access
- Wheelchair accessible taxi passengers continue to experience much longer waiting times than other taxi passengers
- A very low percentage of bus stops in Victoria’s regional areas are compliant with the Transport Standards, and generally do not provide access to the low number of low floor buses currently deployed in regional and rural Victoria
- None of Melbourne’s trains have the number of allocated spaces available for mobility aid users that are required under the Transport Standards.
Planning a journey
Planning a journey involves figuring out which mode of transport, or combination of modes, will get you where you want to go. For public transport to be fully accessible, route information, timetables and travel planners must be easily available in formats that are accessible to all potential travellers. Information about the accessibility of conveyances, infrastructure and connections must also be readily and easily available.
The provision of information about accessible public transport in Victoria has some way to go to meet the best practices seen in other cities. In Victoria, it is often available, but not always obvious on timetables, websites and other literature. The user often needs to actively search for accessibility information.
Getting to a boarding point
The accessible path of travel needs to begin at your front door and end at your destination. Any blockage or failure of that path at any point along the way may bring the journey to a premature end.
Accessible travel includes footpaths, roads, crossings and traffic signals. People with mobility, cognitive, vision and other impairments need to be able to safely get to the bus stop, tram stop or train station. In Victoria people still face many challenges in getting from home to a place where they can board public transport.
Boarding safely and efficiently
Once at a bus stop, tram stop or train station, a person must know where to go, what to do and where to board the conveyance.
When entering a Melbourne metropolitan train station for example, a wheelchair or scooter user must proceed to the spot on the platform and wait where the first door of the first carriage will be when the train stops. This is regardless of whether or not there is any shelter or other amenities in that area.
A vision impaired traveller, as another example, will have difficulty in selecting the correct tram or bus at a stop that serves multiple routes, because generally there is no audible information about the route or destination of each conveyance.
While there are some problems with the Myki fare system used in Victoria, this aspect of the public transport network probably has the least accessibility issues for people with disabilities, mainly due to special cards issued to commuters who are unable to use the ticketing system without assistance.
The recent introduction of Protective Services Officers, particular around train stations, has improved one aspect of safety. People generally feel safer when uniformed officers are around. However, safety means much more. A wheelchair user riding in a bus and sliding across the “non-slip” floor because the driver is taking corners too fast does not feel safe. An elderly tram passenger does not feel safe when she cannot find a seat and the tram driver accelerates or brakes violently.
Knowing where you are during a journey
Trains and some trams announce stops both audibly and visually to passengers inside the conveyance. Most buses do not. The passenger then must rely on looking out the window to understand where they are. Passengers who are blind or visually impaired do not have that ability, so are left to rely on fellow passengers for information.
It is not unknown for the passenger information system in trains and trams to fail, either providing no information or, even worse, incorrect information. In these cases, even if the driver is aware of the fault, it is rare that he or she will provide “direct assistance” in the form of live announcements.
Recognising your destination
If you know where you are during your journey, it is more likely that you will recognise your destination stop. Signs must have a clear message and be easily readable in a colour scheme that has good luminance contrast.
Getting off a conveyance safely, just like getting on, can be a challenge if there is a gap between the doorway and platform or other infrastructure. A gap is a tripping hazard for many passengers and can be a barrier for a wheelchair or scooter user. Likewise, a steep or unstable ramp is hazardous. Yet Victorian buses in particular are equipped with manually deployable ramps which are often very steep and narrow and do not have protection on the sides to stop wheels falling off the edge. To compound the problem in many instances, bus stops are often located on narrow footpaths, giving a wheelchair user very little space to manoeuvre off the end of the bus ramp.
Making easy connections
Connecting from one mode of transport to another can be challenging for many people. The path of travel may be incomplete, there may be an information gap, or the tactile indicators, if they are present at all, may be misleading or confusing.
Transport connection problems are not always about accessibility. Extended waiting times caused by such things as timetable mismatches or infrequent services are a frequent source of frustration for all public transport users.