Wheelchair users face metro 'ban' in St. Petersburg, Russia

News, June 22 2011

St. Petersburg, Russia: Wheelchair users have been banned from the St. Petersburg metro – and the scandal is throwing more attention on to the state of Moscow’s accessibility.

In the northern capital there was fury when a young woman was stopped at the turnstiles and the network’s managers praised staff for “improving their work”.

While there have been no reports of a similar situation in Moscow, the overall state of disabled access still leaves much to be desired. And in effect many people are denied access to the metro and other vital transport services.

“Getting around is quite challenging here, even if you are not in a wheelchair,” Denise Rosa, head of Perspektiva, an NGO aiming to improve quality of life for disabled people in Russia, told the Moscow News.

And it’s not only the metro that’s hard to use: but also city’s overground transport is too overcrowded and lacks special facilities for people in wheelchairs.

While Western cities increasingly have buses with wheelchair friendly entrances and designated space for disabled passengers are commonplace, marshrutka-mobbed Moscow struggles to deliver these services.

Flaws in public transport should be eased by a government-backed taxi service for disabled people – but this also presents problems.
“It’s become more difficult and now you have to book it two weeks in advance,” Rosa said.

The state covers some costs of these trips but they are still more expensive that public transport and require users to make a special trip to get coupons for them.

Disability adapted public transport is seen as the only way to get more people mobile – especially given Moscow’s notorious transport problems.

“If you want to spend 5 hours in a traffic jam, that’s your choice. People with disabilities currently have no choice at all,” the disability rights advocate added.

Moscow’s authorities plan to bring in more suitable vehicles and construct special lifts at new metro stations, RIA Novosti reported, but central stations are to stay as they are.

But Rosa believes better solutions could be found if people with disabilities themselves would be involved in the decision making process.

“They could train some people to help [people in wheelchairs] and let them be there [by the entrance],” she proposed for St. Petersburg metro.

“These people have the same rights and the state is obliged to provide this opportunity [to use underground transport].”

Shortly after the scandal metro bosses in St. Petersburg pledged to install more lifts, so people in wheelchairs don’t need to use escalators “that are not adapted” for them.

Currently there is only one lift of this kind on the network.

Source: http://themoscownews.com

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