By GEMMA WOLK
The Physical Disability Council of NSW has accused Sydney’s public bus service of ignoring the needs of disabled passengers.
Public transport service staff in Sydney have no legal obligation to help disabled passengers board transport. The New South Wales Government website for Sydney Buses clearly states that drivers are “not required to assist a [disabled] passenger to enter or leave the bus”
Spokesperson for Information on Disability & Education Awareness Service (IDEAS), Michael Cerrone said: “I have constant complaints, around once a fortnight, about driver’s refusing disabled passengers’ service. Complaints will rise until a driver being required to assist is made legislation”
Still only 35% of the Sydney buses fleet service is wheelchair accessible, which means neglect to assist disabled passengers will lower this figure further.
Policy Officer for the Physical Disability Council NSW, Jordana Goodman said: “When it comes down to it, it’s not good enough.”
Wheelchair bound herself, Jordana recently had an incident when a Sydney public transport staff member did not want to get the ramp for Ms Goodman to board the vehicle.
“He just wasn’t interested. If they have to do it [assist], it means time is taken and so they would rather ignore their responsibility,” she said. “I always hear it’s very common with bus drivers.”
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2003 within the City of Sydney, approximately 12% of the population had a disability, meaning access to public transport should be a high priority.
Spokesperson for Sydney Buses, Lesley Khair said: “The drivers are trained to help and if the bus has the service then they usually do it [assist disabled passengers], though they are not required to”
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 ‘seeks to eliminate discrimination against people with a disability’, requiring easy access to public transport. If drivers remain able to use their discretion this way, service will continue to be severely compromised.
The Department of Transport is currently in the process of enforcing the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport, an initiative introduced on October 23rd 2002. The standards are reviewed every five years, and are aimed to increase accessibility to public transport for the disabled, however after the 2007 review, the standards still do not include any legal requirements for driver’s assistance.
Senior Advocate of People with Disability (PWD) NSW, Susan Barnes, said [regarding public transport access for the disabled]: “Something like that should be a constant service, but with government budgets, unfortunately service is the first thing to go”
Mrs Barnes said: “This [lack of obligation] leaves the onus on the driver, which has the potential to leave disabled people stranded. If they are unwilling to help, then it doesn’t guarantee the service that should be provided.”