With RailCorp facing a civil lawsuit over inconsistent audible announcements on services, Virat Nehru reports on the wider problem
Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes’ action against RailCorp went before the court on Monday, over the rail authority consistently failing to provide audible announcements on trains.
When Honi Soit went to print, the outcome of the action was not yet determined.
Mr Innes had filed more than 40 complaints over two years through the Public Interest Advocacy Centre over inconsistency of audible announcements on trains, but according to PIAC, RailCorp failed to give a satisfactory answer or take any steps to remedy the situation.
PIAC, which is representing Mr Innes, claims that RailCorp has breached federal disability discrimination law by failing to provide audible announcements crucial to the vision impaired.
Mr Innes went to the courts after attempts at mediation failed on Friday August 10.
Mr Innes’ struggle with RailCorp has brought a much larger issue into focus – access to public transport for the disabled.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), there are over four million people living with a disability in Australia. Access to public transport, particularly train stations, remains one of their daily struggles.
The absence of elevators and ramps at many stations, including Redfern, leaves many with a disability to rely on help from their fellow commuters to enter or exit the station.
The transport authority for NSW has stated installing ramps and elevators at smaller stations is not cost effective, given that they do not draw that many commuters.
Andrew Smith, a regular commuter of the Newcastle line train, has difficulty on his daily commute due to a bad knee and arthritic pain.
“I have to regularly travel to Gosford where my GP and physiotherapist are,” the retiree said.
“I decided to move to the Hawkesbury River area to enjoy the peace and quiet, [but] no-one gets off at Hawkesbury River.
“There is a long staircase that leads out of the station. Between my bulky frame and my bad knee, descending that staircase is a painful experience,” he said.
Mr Smith’s problem isn’t limited to the smaller stations. Even Redfern, used by hundreds of university students every day, is also not wheelchair accessible, with no lifts or ramps.
Mother of two, Rachel Nguyen, who is a regular commuter between Pennant Hills and North Strathfield, believes that the question of better access affects not only the elderly and the disabled, but also mothers with newborn kids.
“My youngest girl is just about a year old. Coming from Pennant Hills is okay, but getting out of North Strathfield is another story altogether,” she said.
“With Zoe in the pram, I have to wait for someone to come along and help me carry her up the stairs. I’m sick of thanking strangers. I feel almost dependent on them”.
At the time of print, the outcome of Mr Innes’ action should be known. Irrespective of whether Mr Innes is successful, thousands of commuters will continue to struggle in stations without proper disabled access.
A campaign to install lifts at Redfern station is currently underway, with a parliamentary debate on the issue scheduled for August 23.