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Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the treatment of people with disabilities. “Thinking” is a mild term – I’ve been seething over it. I’m going to take these issues one step at a time, starting with transport accessibility.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to use a wheelchair, for instance, so I’m not going to speak for those who do. I came up with this anecdote about my having been stuck without transport a few days ago, but then I thought about how insulting it was to try and find a connection there.* So here is a round-up of some information I found on the subject.

In Sydney, where I live, people love to complain about the public transport. It usually takes someone from out of town to point out that our transport system is rather fantastic: there are plenty of buses and trains, they run often, and they’re usually on time. I wasn’t too sure that this was the case for people with mobility and access issues, though. It turns out that I was partially right. The NSW Government’s Ministry of Transport has an Accessible Transport Action Plan for NSW Transport, Roads and Maritime Agencies. This plan looks comprehensive, if it will be put in place far too slowly.

From the plan:

Bus Services

a) Vehicles

1669 of the 4011 buses in the Sydney and Outer Metropolitan Areas (41.6%) are currently accessible (approximately 47% Sydney Metro and 24% Outer Metropolitan areas).

b) Timetabled Accessible Services

Approximately 30% of bus services in both the Sydney Metropolitan and Outer Metropolitan areas were timetabled as accessible as at 30 June 2008. It is not possible to more accurately estimate this percentage as a small minority of bus operators have not been able to provide accurate reports to the Ministry on how many of their accessible services are timetabled.

Um. More accessible vehicles than timetabled bus services? A misuse of resources, perhaps? A little government efficiency would go a long way towards better accessibility for the citizens of NSW. You should check out what they have to say about other forms of transport, too. Still, there’s more on offer in these parts. The Transport Infoline, which appears to cover the Great Sydney area, is an excellent resource in my experience. They seem pretty up on accessibility, too: here is their accessibility FAQ and here is an accessible transport trip planner. Good, no? Lastly, my local bus timetable has 100% accessibility on weekends, but little for peak times on weekdays, which was disappointing.

Down in Melbourne, access seems somewhat better although not nearly good enough. (‘Over half of Melbourne’s bus services are wheelchair-accessible’.) Victoria also has an action plan. Here’s the page on accessibility projects and programs.

There’s not much information to be had in Queensland. Adelaide looks as though the transport system is relatively accessible, but there’s not much information there, either. Tasmania’s not that fantastic, with 25% of bus services being accessible in December 2007 – but a good focus on wheelchair accessible taxis. I couldn’t find anything substantial for the Northern Territory, Western Australia or the ACT. Well, there was this PDF document aimed at WA bus and coach operators.

Lastly, do have a look at Disability standards for accessible public transport from the Attorney-General’s department and the transport accessibility page at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Before I move into the international, why specifically am I talking about transport accessibility? Anna really got me when she talked about it in the comments at Hoyden the other day:

Having so few routes (I think there’s less than 10 in my city) that are fully accessible, and not allowing wheelchair users on to the accessible buses that aren’t on fully accessible routes, makes things as simple as going out to a movie or as complicated as getting to a specialist appointment or a regular job incredibly difficult for people who, on the whole, give up a lot of their energy and time to just being disabled.

Yeah. Naturally, I had to investigate public transport in Canada, where Anna lives. The sites I looked at turned out to be a bit difficult to navigate… I thought we were going for accessibility, here? Seniors’ info provides the same info, but is a bit easier navigation-wise. I’m afraid that there was not a lot to be said for Canadian transport with regarrd to accessibility. This is probably your best bet.

Here’s a little for Ireland and the UK (including the 2012 Olympics). The US is doing better than I expected. I also found some resources for New Zealand.

I realise that I’ve largely covered urban areas and exclusively developed nations. It doesn’t take much imagination to flesh that out: with limited access in developed nations, compounded by misallocation of resources and organisation which should be very much improved upon, how much worse must it be in nations in which health care or economics means accessibility is far more often a case of life or death? Anyway, I’ll look into it at a later stage.

Now, I’ve just taken a bit of time out of my day to address this issue, but there are many, many people who spend hours negotiating the transport system daily. This is because we live in a society that views people with disabilities as an inconvenience, something to be ignored or dealt with with minimal fuss. This is absolutely wrong. People are people, and accessible transport is a pretty basic requirement of most people’s lives. Transport needs to get better: worldwide and as quickly as may be.

*With this post of Renee’s in mind.
‘I don’t want to hear your comparisons of my life to yours, because they are not the same. My struggle will never be the same as yours, and your attempts to diminish it by trying to find a reference point in your life, only makes the degree of privilege with which you function even more obvious.’