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How easy is our public transport to use?

Hello and welcome to our second blog post, my name is Gerri and I work as an Access Co-ordinator for CCS Disability Action. I have a special interest in making sure everyone can access our transport system, particularly disabled people who don’t have independent access to a car. I use a wheelchair for mobility myself and know that life can very easily become extremely difficult for us. We are very dependent on accessible pedestrian routes and public transport.

Transport is the glue that holds our community together. Bussing, driving, riding and walking or wheeling is how we get to work, see friends, meet new people, buy groceries, and generally live our lives.

Most of us don’t think too much about transport, there is always some way to get from A to B. But, what about if you have different mobility needs to the average person, say you are using a wheelchair? All of a suddenly getting about can become an epic journey requiring expert planning and sheer determination. Along the way you might encounter negative attitudes, steep cracked footpaths, loads of steps and impatient bus drivers driving buses like this;

An inaccessible wheelchair space on a bus

This is a wheelchair parking space. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that, thanks to an inconveniently placed pole, this could be a rather difficult space to park your wheelchair in.

For disabled people simply getting around the community can be a major challenge. This impacts their ability to find employment, be independent, and meet people. Ultimately, we all lose if disabled people cannot get around their community. We lose because they do not find jobs and have to rely on tax payer funded benefits. We also lose because we do not get to meet a wider variety of people and discover how they can contribute to the community.

We often lose personally because we all experience different levels of mobility throughout our lives; sometimes due to temporary causes such as injury, pregnancy or sickness. As we age, it is increasingly due to more permanent causes.

Many of the barriers people face when using transport are easy and cheap to fix. What is required is expert knowledge and creative thinking. The expert knowledge required is both from professionals and from disabled people themselves who face these barriers everyday. It is the second group that seems to be missing from many recent transport changes. Yet I have experienced first hand the difference including disabled people in transport planning can make.

When I started as an Access and Mobility representative at Waikato Regional Council in 2005, many of the people involved in public transport saw meeting the needs of disabled people as just an extra cost. Over time I was able to convince people that investing in more accessible public transport was an opportunity. At a time when the government and transport companies are looking to increase the number of passengers, it makes sense to make public transport usable for everyone. There is a whole group of people out there just waiting to use public transport.

Unfortunately, we are currently stuck in a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Some disabled people, especially people who use wheelchairs, find many bus services hard to use and don’t use them. This causes bus companies to decide that there is no demand for wheelchair friendly buses and little action is taken to evaluate the accessibility of their bus services.

When we can break through the deadlock, we find there is demand. In Hamilton, thanks to more wheelchair friendly buses, there are now between 300 to 400 passengers who use wheelchairs riding buses every month. That is a sizable number of people going to work, seeing friends, meeting new people, and living their lives in the community.

In future blogs, I hope to explore some of the ways we can make transport more accessible and what the challenges are.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post, I really appreciate it.
Kind Regards
Gerri Pomeroy
Access Co-ordinator

9 Responses to “How easy is our public transport to use?”

  1. Steve Daw says:

    Your article is so spot on Gerri. I lived in England for a sum total of 25 years and the developments in accessible transport brought on by the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) have provided a mixed client group which includes parents etc. pushing prams, disabled people, elderly people, with a never before offered opportunity to enjoy the public transport system that non-disabled people have taken for granted for so many years. The old double decker buses in Greater Manchester have been shelved in favour of accessible omnibuses and each bus is fitted with a ‘kneeling’ facility. It’s a shame that it took a powerful piece of legislation to get the people who design and provide public transport to take notice of all the people they had in effect eliminated from their customer base.

  2. Liz Church says:

    Great article Gerri. I have avoided public transport for years because of that fear of the unknown. Will the bus be a kneeling bus? Will the driver wait until I’m seated before moving off? Will I get a seat on my own so that I can have the space to lever up from the seat? Will there be a seat for me? Will the driver know to wait at the stop so I have time to get out of my seat and get off the bus? Most of my concerns are around attitudes. Without a car my life would certainly grind to a halt. Great result in Hamilton – Thanks

  3. The able-bodied say it’s wheelchair accessible and NOT Personally tested it themselves or got a disabled person to try it IT STUPID and is False Information.

  4. I generally don’t have no major transport accessible issues Christchurch has great accessible buses for me. Pre earthquake I could go to lyttleton from my old christchurch home I could catch a bus whenever I wanted no issues even post quake no major issues but now I have to travel 10 mins town my street to catch the bus to the CBD I don’t use cabs unless i need to because they’re vry isolating even thou I now have to travel 10 mins I can talk to my nieghbours in my new nieghbourhood I’m still able to catch a bus whenever I want post equake no access issues that personally affect me catching the bus
    Christchurch changed its bus company on some of the routes post sept 4 quake there were access issues then however the whole chch city had the same access issues because some of the buses used were from 1980! this was because the accessible layout fitting company was damaged. I think when that happened christchurch non disabled company started to become aware how inaccessibility affects the community

  5. Roger Loveless says:

    Let’s also spare a thought for our smaller rural urban communities. I attended a Waikato Region Rural Transport Forum on 11 June and it is clear significant efforts are needed to provide adequate public transport for anyone without a car, let alone those with disabilities. Over recent years the DHB’s have contracted transport providers to operate health shuttles and there are also charitable providers with volunteer drivers getting people to and from routine hospital appointments. However, when it comes to disabled folk getting to work, school or seeing family the situation is at best intermittent, and in many cases non existent. The regulations still don’t insist inter city buses should be accessible and many older urban buses are also not accessible.

    A major overhaul is essential to allow all disabled folk who cannot drive to use public transport, so they can independently access the places other people take for granted.

  6. […] She also talks about what you can do about it. If you missed her previous post on transport you can find it here. It provides good background for today’s […]

  7. […] and my co-worker, Gerri Pomeroy, have a good relationship with our local councils in Hamilton. We have spent a large amount of time […]

  8. […] society, Transport, valuing people Gerri Pomeroy, one of our access coordinator extraordinaires, returns to talk about a very exciting report her, Roger and Taylored Accessibility Solutions wrote for […]

  9. […] Where a home is located is another important piece of the puzzle. Living in central locations on transport routes and near services such as malls, supermarkets and other amenities ensure people can access the community. People with mobility needs are very dependent on accessible pedestrian routes and public transport. […]

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