Equal Access to Public Transport - Are We There Yet?
We spoke to our good friend Michael Dobbie this week who advocates for equitable access to public transport and buildings for the 4.4 million Australians living with disability. An important job because, as Michael wrote in a recent opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review, ‘a simple train trip can be as hard as a journey to Mars.’
A seasoned traveller worldwide as Australia’s Paralympic tennis champion, Michael’s number one tip for people with disability when it comes to public transport is to study your journey prior and have a contingency plan.
This can help negate some of the stress, anxiety and potential pitfalls if a lift is out of order, or there are only stairs available. A 15-minute journey can quickly become an hour-long demoralising attempt to get to work, school, healthcare services or a coffee with a friend.
What’s the plan?
Thanks to the work of people like Michael there are improvements being made to make transport and building design more accessible to everyone. Close to Pathways To Care’s headquarters in Bendigo, we can cheer that the pedestrian bridge at Bendigo Station was completed in 2019, signalling a milestone in the Government’s $15.8 million commitment to improving access, safety and connectivity at both Bendigo and Eaglehawk stations.
A win for everyone in the region but there is more work to be done, and as Michael says, “Most public transport journeys will go right and that is due to a mix of good planning by the individual and the changes being made to the transport network over time.”
Michael says “do the planning to understand the journey, it comes with practise to be fully confident. Understand what system works for you and what support systems you have available to make the journey confidently.”
“Consider getting a friend or carer to come with you on your first journey to make sure you feel okay, so understand what you can do when things go wrong. If you are going to catch a train and miss it, think about how do you find out about the next train? Is there a number you can call if the screens are out or you can’t get to it? All that kind of contingency planning.
“If I am going somewhere new, for example, I would look at planner for a good half an hour to determine the best way for me.”
If you’re a participant in the NDIS scheme, there are also some organisations that offer Travel Training to help you become more confident and self-reliant to travel.
Start the conversation
The Bendigo Station may not have improved without the community voices who tirelessly campaigned for it. Michael says it’s about “having the conversation to work constructively with the local council or transport companies, it’s engaging with your community to make everyone understands the benefits.
“Most people just aren’t aware. Don’t just complain, but suggest solutions and work with community leaders so they can understand the benefits for improving accessibility – universal design benefits reach also mums with prams, situational disability, people with luggage - it benefits all people.”
There’s no denying it’s a massive, complex task and one that requires careful consideration of many factors. If you want to find out more about how we can make our public transport systems more accessible and inclusive, read Michael’s co-written piece ‘Accessible transport would be a win for everyone—but we need to lift our game’.
Michael Dobbie advises public sector clients on improving accessibility outcomes in major public transport and infrastructure projects. Michael is a former Paralympian with 20 years of lived experience in disability.