How easy is our public transport to use?3 min read
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;
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.