Disability accessibility rules bypassed in low-floor tram rush

Asia-Pacific, September 14 2011

Australia: The Department of Transport knowingly breached federal anti-discrimination laws by ignoring wheelchair accessibility rules on trams.

A tender assessment from September last year for 50 new “low-floor trams” reveals that the department decided a Disability Discrimination Act requirement for a step height between platforms and trams of no more than 12 millimetres was too onerous, instead asking for a cheaper 50 millimetre option, which is the European standard.

“It was determined that the 12mm option was not feasible and should not be actively pursued”, the briefing to Martin Pakula, transport minister in the former Labor government, says.

The documents, obtained under freedom of information laws by Greens MP Greg Barber, warn that no tenders had developed a “workable system” to meet the requirement, saying the impact on delivery times and maintenance was too great.

Transport Minister Terry Mulder announced last month the first of the 50 new Bombardier trams will begin operating next year.

Sanctions for beaching the federal discrimination act, if any, are unclear. But Ray Jordan, of Reservoir, said he often finds it difficult to board trams in his wheelchair and is considering taking the government to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

“I have had experience where I’ve just simply not been able to get onto a low floor tram at a platform tram stop,” he told reporters.

“My option is to sit there and wait for the next tram to come along and just hope that I can get on that one.”

Greens transport spokesman Greg Barber says many of the existing low-floor trams do not comply with the federal standard and there are gaps of up to 90mm.

“When the former government placed the order for trams they knew that they would not comply with the federal wheelchair standard,” he told reporters.

“That’s something the new government needs to fix.”

Mr Jordan said Mr Mulder should order the department to examine how they are going to fix the problem.

“We don’t want to stop or delay those (new) trams. We just want to make sure that they can be accessible by everybody – people with wheelchairs, people with walking frames, parents with prams.”

In a press release last month, Mr Mulder said the new $300 million trams would provide easier access.

Source: http://www.theage.com.au

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