Ausnew Home Care | Queensland is unlikely to meet the legislated goal of having all train stations fully accessible this year

Queensland is unlikely to meet the legislated goal of having all train stations fully accessible this year

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A looming deadline to make public transport accessible to people with disability is set to be missed by the Queensland government, despite authorities having 20 years to make changes.

The federal Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002 lays out a timeline to complete accessibility upgrades by the end of this year.

A Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said about 40 per cent of train stations across south-east Queensland cannot be accessed without stairs.

Transport Minister Mark Bailey today told ABC Radio Brisbane more work needed to be done to ensure all south-east Queensland train stations were fully accessible but it was unlikely to be done by the end of the year.

"It's not good enough," Mr Bailey said.

"People with disabilities should have full access to all services, including public transport."

Geoff Trappett, an advocate for people with disability, said accessible transport is an often neglected issue. 

"Unfortunately, when you're dealing with issues of people being abused or neglected … transport can be one of those issues that just doesn't rise to the top of the pile," he said.

While the installation of lifts and ramps can overcome stairs at stations, there are other aspects of train stations that can make access difficult for people with disability, particularly if they use a wheelchair or other mobility devices.

For example, the tracks at level crossings have flange gaps in the road that are difficult to roll over. If a station only has level crossing or stairs to get between platforms, they can be virtually unusable for many.

A split image shows the width of the gaps. On the right, a man shows the gap is as wide as his shoe.
Wide flange gaps on on level crossings can be dangerous for people for people using wheelchairs and other mobility devices. (ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

Upgrading stations to meet accessibility standards is a costly and time-consuming project, Mr Bailey said, adding it is unlikely any state would meet this year's deadline.

"We need to do more, the majority of patrons have got access … but we're keen to get that to 100 per cent," he said.

"About 82 per cent of our patrons on our train network have access to an accessible station and we've got a station upgrade program worth half a billion dollars."

Premier and Olympics Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk was asked if all train stations would be fully accessible by the time Brisbane hosts the Paralympic Games in 2032 but a Transport and Main Roads spokesperson would only commit to "key transport stations and hubs used to access Games venues" meeting the criteria.

A spokesperson for federal Urban Infrastructure and Cities Minister Paul Fletcher said the government was aware of their obligation to comply with the Standards for Accessible Public Transport for projects funded by the recently announced SEQ City Deal

'It means that they're not a full citizen'

Mr Trappett said the Accessible Public Transport 2002 Standards are the "key piece of legislation" for progress on the issue but the 2002 standards are woefully outdated, and that much of the research for the standards was conducted in the 1990s.

"A lot of the reasons that we need to update the standards are simply because the technology that exists now didn't exist back then," he said.

"There's entire sections of the disability standards for accessible public transport legislation that don't cover smartphones, for example, because we were using Nokia 3210s."

Disability advocate Geoff Trappett, speaking to the ABC in Brisbane in May 2017
Geoff Trappett says the 2002 standards are outdated, and many are turning for the next standards for hope. (ABC News: Dea Clark)

However, he said that did not mean the changes to meet the standards should not be made.

"For people with disability, it means that they're not a full citizen of the community," he said.

"That's a terrible shame, given we've had the disability standards for accessible public transport for 20 years now."

'They haven't got that balancing act right'

Despite what is seemingly a straightforward timeline in the standards – that all train stations be completely accessible by 2022 – there are workarounds.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) can give temporary exemptions to what is ruled by the Disability Discrimination Act.

"It's a matter the Australian Human Rights Commission needs to weigh up: achieving the objects of the Disability Discrimination Act and achieving them in a manner that's sustainable," Mr Trappett said.

"You speak to many people with disability, and they will say that they haven't got that balancing act right."

Elisha Mathews, who uses a wheelchair, was part of a vocal and eventually successful campaign for accessibility upgrades at Dakabin station.

Construction started in 2020, but Ms Mathews has since left the area.

"I discovered that it didn't matter where I moved to, I was still going to have a problem with an inaccessible station, whether it was where I had to depart from or where I had to arrive, there was going to be a problem with a station somewhere," she said.

half close-up of a woman ina wheelchair staring sternly into the camera.
Elisha Mathews says change often doesn't come for people with disability until someone speaks up. (ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

Ms Mathews said things do not change for her community unless someone makes a fuss.

"I just don't think that it's been prioritised well enough until we started making noise about it, until we started insisting," she said.

Ms Mathews said exemptions granted in the past illustrate this lack of balance.

"The Australasian Railway Association (ARA), which covers all of the railways in Australia, they get a blanket exemption every time it comes up for renewal," she said.

"That blanket exemption means that they just really don't have to do anything to fix it.

"It's like having a legislation for road rules, but saying, 'Well, we're not actually going to enforce them'."

The AHRC issued a preliminary view in relation to another ARA exemption suggesting it will likely be extended.

A compliance system 'without teeth'

The AHRC is also the avenue for people with disability to make complaints about the current situation.

"One of the major failings is that what's called the compliance framework doesn't have a lot of teeth," Mr Trappett said.

"A transport provider can have a deadline or timeline set down where X number of rail stations or X number of buses need to be accessible. But there's no realistic way of a person with a disability holding them to account.

"It would involve a person with a disability needing to go through the court system, which is lengthy and expensive."

A level crossing through the white gates that close when a train is approaching.
Level crossings like this can be dangerous for people using wheelchairs. (ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

The Queensland Human Rights Commission said they receive "a handful" of complaints every year from people with disability in the state, but suggest it is not reflective of the issue.

"Like other cohorts who experience regular – in some cases daily – instances of discrimination, lodging complaints to bodies like the commission may not seem like a reasonable option or likely to prevent them needing to lodge more complaints in future, particularly when the issue is one as broad and systemic as access to public transport," the commission said.

Mr Trappett said the exemption system is at the heart of the problem.

"[There needs to be] a lot more rigour into how those exemptions are being put forward and being accepted by the Human Rights Commission," he said.

He said many advocates are turning to the next set of accessibility standards for change.

"I've been pushing lately for business modelling and forward budget estimates to be included in that decision making process … they need to be putting in the resources into that research to make sure that they don't just turn up in in five years' time and say, 'sorry, we didn't come up with a solution'."

Prioritisation can't change the past

Both Mr Trappett and Ms Mathews agree the current Queensland government is taking steps in the right direction.

"I have to admit that this government that we have now has been the most proactive in getting stations upgraded, we've had more stations upgraded in the last five years than we did in the previous five," Ms Mathews said.

Mr Trappett said it is good to see the issue prioritised, but it does little to change current circumstances.

"If we'd program managed the scope of works correctly, then then all of our stations would be accessible and all of our transport infrastructure would be accessible, and that would render the conversation on priorities null and void," he said.

Source: ABC

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