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Accessible Transportation Around the World

January 2007 Newsletter

AEI gratefully acknowledges a donation to underwrite the printing and distribution of the hard copy version of this Newsletter by Unwin Safety Systems. Unwin Safety Systems manufactures safety equipment to provide comfort and security for both wheelchair and seated passengers during transport. Their fully tested range includes wheelchair securement systems, passenger seat belts, ramps, and domestic lifts. For further information, e-mail to sales@unwin-safety.co.uk or go to www.unwin-safety.com.

Accessibility Guidelines presented at Mexico conference
Access to express buses provides a unique opportunity for disabled persons in the growing cities of Asia, Africa, and Latin America

Bus Rapid Transit: “Clean air” meets “mobility for all” 

The threat of global warming, polluted air and traffic congestion in the world’s growing megacities has given rise to proposals for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems throughout the world – and created a unique opportunity to remove the barriers which have kept persons with disabilities and many seniors from using public transit in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

But the fact that BRT design – usually with level boarding from raised platforms -- lends itself to accessible transport is not a guarantee that international norms for accessibility will actually be used when it comes to the design of the sidewalks, curb cuts, stations, and buses that all form a part of the integrated trunk line and feeder line access which must come together for a full-featured Bus Rapid Transit system. The World Bank’s new Bus Rapid Transit Accessibility Guidelines, prepared by Tom Rickert of Access Exchange International, must first get into the hands of stakeholders around the world if they are to be useful. One such opportunity was provided in October, 2006, when the World Resources Institute and its Mexican affiliate, Centro de Transporte Sustentable, invited Rickert to present the guidelines at a conference on sustainable transport in Mexico City and Querétero. The several hundred participants were mainly from Latin America, where Bus Rapid Transit had its origin in Brazil, spreading from there to Ecuador and Colombia and now being considered throughout the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Similar conferences took place in São Paulo, Brazil, in July, and in Bogotá, Colombia, in November.

Mexico City’s BRT: a mixed review

Participants were especially interested in seeing Mexico City’s new Metrobús BRT system on Avenida Insurgentes, one of the main streets in what is considered by many to be the world’s largest metropolitan area. The twenty kilometer system serves a quarter million passengers per day with a fleet of nearly one hundred fast articulated buses. Positive features include very high usage and the elimination of older polluting buses and mini-buses. After a chaotic start, passenger satisfaction is now reported to be good. Wheelchair access is provided at the majority of the enclosed center-island stations. Security personnel are on hand at the stations to assist passengers. While the horizontal gap between the raised platforms and bus doors was initially viewed as too large to be easily crossed by wheelchair users, observations by AEI suggested that steps to reduce this gap have been at least partly successful.

Problems remain: Ramps are somewhat steeper than permitted by international guidelines, not all stations are accessible, and – above all – adjacent sidewalks and curb ramps have not yet been upgraded and are sometimes marginally accessible or totally inaccessible to many disabled persons and seniors. Nevertheless, once access improvements are made to surrounding pedestrian infrastructure and connecting transit lines, Mexico City’s BRT corridors will serve an increasing number of disabled passengers. A total of eight additional BRT lines are now proposed in Mexico City alone!

 Accessible BRT grows in Latin America

 Meanwhile, the explosive growth in express buses continues in Central and South America.

• In Colombia, all the BRT systems, with the help of funding from the World Bank and (in the case of Cali) from the Inter-American Development Bank, are planned to be accessible to disabled persons. (See the feature article in our January 2006 Newsletter.) Pereira’s Megabús BRT system began operating its two trunk lines in August and October, 2006, respectively. Meanwhile, Bogotá, Colombia’s outstanding TransMilenio system continues to expand. Elsewhere in Colombia, the BRT systems of Cali, Medellín, Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Bucaramanga are scheduled to open in 2007 or 2008. Cali’s system alone will include 49 kilometers of trunk lines, 86 stations and terminals, and nearly 1,000 trunk and feeder line buses.


• The BRT system of Guayaquil, Ecuador, opened the first of three trunk lines in August, 2006, with service by 40 articulated buses at 36 stations, adding to the accessible BRT bus and trolley systems already operating in Quito. Transantiago, in Santiago, Chile, has also opened, with more construction under way. In Peru, construction of Lima’s express bus system is in the planning stage. In Brazil, systems are operating in Curitiba (the world’s first BRT system), Goiãnia, Fortaleza and Manaus. A major express bus system in São Paulo was unfortunately built without access for wheelchair users and others with difficulty climbing steps. Construction has started for Guatemala City’s TransMetro with concerns raised by disability NGOs about access features. A court finding in favor of advocates is currently being appealed by the municipality.

From Latin America to the world

 Meanwhile, Bus Rapid Transit systems are spreading throughout the world. Twenty cities in China are considering such systems, with systems in Beijing and Hangzhou in full operation. The systems in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Seoul, Korea, opened in 2004. India is considering BRT in many of its major cities. Vietnam has been planning two corridors in Hanoi and BRT is proposed for Ho Chi Minh City. Funding has been granted for a system in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Construction is planned to begin shortly for a system in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (see article in our June 2006 Newsletter), while systems are proposed for Cape Town, South Africa, and Lagos, Nigeria. Space does not permit a listing of the many BRT systems now being planned in North America and Europe. (Sources of information for this article included Gerhard Menckhoff of the World Bank, EMBARQ, the BRT Policy Center, and the ITDP. For information from TransMilenio e-mail to alexandra-correa@transmilenio.gov.co.)


To download the World Bank’s Bus Rapid Transit Accessibility Guidelines, go to www.worldbank.org and type the title into the search box. Print and CD copies are also available upon request.

In the next ten years, new Bus Rapid Transit lines will be built in dozens of the largest cities in the developing world, serving many millions of persons with thousands of bus stations and tens of thousands of buses. Will these systems be accessible to disabled persons? Will they serve as models of universal design to provide mobility for everyone? This is the challenge faced by development banks, by stakeholders around the world, and by Access Exchange International.

How Hong Kong’s Door-to-Door and Service Routes Grew in 28 years from 8,000 to 562,000 trips for disabled passengers

This is the second in a series of first-hand reports about how people are “making access happen” in different countries. The first report covered the founding and expansion of Persatuan Mobiliti, a door-to-door transport service in Malaysia.

By Rex Luk, Transport Manager
The Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation


It began with a defeat. In 1974, the Joint Council for the Physically and Mentally Handicapped asked the Hong Kong government to make a planned subway accessible. The Council was turned down, but the Access Committee of the Council began to plan for providing some form of minibus service to persons with disabilities. Service began in 1977, using two 7-seater vans donated by the YMCA’s Mens Club. Within three months an initial 56 disabled persons had registered for the service. In 1978, our non-profit Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation agreed to take over this service with full financial support from the government. It was named “Rehabus.”

After 28 years, Rehabus Service has expanded from the two vans to a mixed fleet of 92 vehicles – mostly 12-seater light buses, each with a lift and four wheelchair securement areas as well as a low retractable step for other passengers. We use Unwin wheelchair securements meeting the ISO’s wheelchair transportation safety standards and Ratcliff and PLS Access wheelchair lifts. The annual patronage has increased 70-fold – from 8,000 passenger trips in 1977 to 562,000 trips in 2005. Rehabus provides two types of service. A scheduled route service meets such basic transport needs as trips to work, school, and training, and also connects to major accessible mass transit and rail lines. We operate 60 routes, Mondays through Fridays from 6:30-10 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. Most of these vehicles then become available at other hours for our continuous door-to-door “dial-a-ride” service to provide transport to medical appointments and social functions. To assure service quality, in 2003 we received certification of Quality Management System issued by the British Standards Institute (called ISO 9001:2000 certification).

Easy-Access Bus

In 2001, the Hong Kong Hospital Authority initiated a “Elderly Transfer Service” to help frail elderly persons to get to medical appointments in public hospitals and clinics. Based on our decades of previous experience, we initiated “Easy-Access Transport Services” to meet this need.

We started with six buses and now have 28 vehicles. Each Easy-Access Bus can provide up to five wheelchair spaces and is equipped with a power lift 1.6 meters long that is capable of handling 300 kilograms of weight, again meeting international (ISO) standards. We are currently providing 130,000 annual trips. The service has also expanded its scope, with charter service for individuals and organizations which need accessible buses for meetings and tours.

Then, in 2004, in coordination with a sister agency we set up within the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation, we started up Easy Access Travel (EAT), offering charter services to tourists with disabilities who are visiting Hong Kong. This charter service is supported by the Hong Kong government and has served many visitors – one the most notable of whom is the world-famous physicist, Professor Stephen Hawking. We started out with 23-seater buses for large groups of visitors and now we have added 7-seater accessible cars for smaller groups. Overseas visitors in small groups find our service very convenient while traveling in Hong Kong.

 And now, wheelchair accessible taxis?

 On the one hand, Hong Kong’s public transport system is becoming increasingly user-friendly for seniors and for persons with disabilities. By last year, more than 2,500 of our public buses were low-floor models with many other access features, which comes to 42% of the fleet. And, with few exceptions, nearly all the rail stations in Hong Kong are accessible.

On the other hand, the whole transport system is still far from being fully accessible. All 18,138 taxies and 4,350 minibuses are still not wheelchair accessible, although taxis do have features for those with sight impairments. Also, we have seen an upsurge in the demand for Rehabus service with the increased participation of disabled persons in the work force and as students. In spite of our 70-fold increase over the past 28 years, demand still exceeds supply by more than 15%. Not only that, but the Census Department forecasts that the population over age 65 will increase from 12% next year to 16% ten years later. Since disability and aging are highly correlated, demand will increase even faster in years to come.

In view of the increase in need for accessible transport, the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation has submitted a proposal to our government for a trial run of twenty wheelchair-accessible taxis. Through this project, we hope to demonstrate the potential of this untapped market for Hong Kong’s taxi industry. We hope that the taxi industry will then accept this new concept of taxi operation and that at least 10% of the total taxi fleet will become wheelchair accessible in the future.

Do you want to know more about transport accessibility in Hong Kong? Here are web sites in English and Chinese that you can visit:


• You can download the “Guide to Public Transport for Persons with Disabilities” at the Hong Kong Transport Department site at http://www.td.gov.hk/public_services/services_for_the_people_with_disabilities/index.htm


• Or go to the Tourism Board at http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/travelneeds/disabled/index.jhtml


• Our Easy-Access Travel is at http://www.easyaccesstravelhk.com/ets_travel/backgroup_e.htm


• And the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation is at http://www.rehabsociety.org.hk. Our address is 6/F, 7 Sha Wan Drive, Pokfulam, Hong Kong. Telephone (852) 2817-6277, fax (852) 2855-1947.

 Beijing Group Visits San Francisco

Access Exchange International hosted a visit of six representatives of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation this past July. The group inspected pedestrian, bus and subway access features and met with staff of the Accessible Services office of the San Francisco transit agency, the San Francisco Paratransit Broker (Veolia Transportation), and the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

AEI Expands Web Site

Links to more than 100 agencies in eight languages in 25 countries are now available in the expanded Resources Section at our web site at www.globalride-sf.org. Readers are also encouraged to go to our updated and expanded Photo Tour. Our English and Spanish Newsletters are also archived at this site.


Register now for TRANSED

June 18-21, 2007 in Montreal

Canada will host the 11th International Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons (TRANSED), to be held June 18-21 in Montréal The conference will review advances in research, profile international breakthroughs and present technological innovations to promote mobility for all around the world. AEI urges our readers to consider participation in this conference, held every three years. TRANSEDs in recent years have been held in Reading, UK; Perth, Australia; Warsaw, Poland; and Hamamatsu, Japan.

TRANSED is hosted by Transport Canada under the auspices of the USA’s Transportation Research Board. Registration is open at the conference web site.

News and Notes from Around the World

Europe and the Americas

France: “Accessibility: The Social Dimension of Sustainable Transport” was the topic of a session at the 12th Conference of CODATU (Co-operation for Urban Mobility in the Developing World) in Lyon this past summer. The session was organized by Mary Crass of the European Conference of Ministers of Transport and led by Ann Frye, Chair of the ECMT Working Group on Access and Inclusion. Presenters included Christo Venter of the University of Pretoria, on progress in South Africa; Lalita Sen of Texas Southern University, highlighting issues in India; and Gerhard Menckhoff of the World Bank, focusing on access to Bus Rapid Transit systems in Latin America. . . . Thanks to Danae Penn, here is the latest address for downloading key European guides on access to low floor buses, railways, and inter-city coaches: go to www.bestgroup.cc/cost349/download.htm.

UK: Go to the Global Transport Knowledge Partnership in the UK at www.gtkp.com for an overview of general transport concerns and resources in developing countries. GTKP’s current focus includes rural transport and road safety.

Luxembourg: Europe’s transport ministers have adopted a requirement that all airports and airlines be barrier-free. (Report from European Disability Forum in Cyprus Mail)

Brazil: An accessible transport workshop took place in Recife in September, with speakers from the area as well as from São Paulo and other regions. . . . Brazil’s maritime and waterway access norms are undergoing final revision, notes Angela Werneck in Rio de Janeiro. . . . The national Ministry of Cities is surveying public transport accessibility in Brazilian cities with a view toward gathering and quantifying data as efforts focus on implementing legislation requiring full transit access in coming years.

Trinidad and Tobago: Accessibility to land transport is on the agenda as part of a 20 year development program for the transportation sector. Meanwhile, 12 wheelchair-accessible buses have begun operation. (DPI report)

Mexico: The city of Querétero has inaugurated a specialized transit service with five lift-equipped buses serving five routes, running weekdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. . . . Libre Acceso, one of Latin America’s outstanding disability NGOs, has continued its effective advocacy of integrated transport in Mexico City. A newly published guide lists access features on regular buses, Bus Rapid Transit, subway, trolleybus, and light rail systems. The municipal bus fleet recently added twenty lift-equipped buses, bringing its accessible fleet to 71 vehicles deployed on major routes in the city. . . . Federico Fleischmann, a pioneer advocate for accessible transport in Mexico City, arranged a presentation of BRT Accessibility Guidelines by Tom Rickert for transport authorities in Mexico City. The meeting was hosted by Luis Ruis, Director of Mexico City’s transportation department.

Canada: The ratification process for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is under way. Those interested in learning more about developing a successful ratification campaign in their countries can contact Disabled Peoples’ International in Canada at www.icrpd.net.

USA: A guide to “Effective Approaches for Increasing Stop Announcements for Transit Operators” is planned for completion this summer. Information will be posted at www.projectaction.org . . . The benefits and potential of wheelchair-accessible taxi service, as well as a toolkit for local advocacy efforts, are featured at www.taxisforallna.org.

Mid-East, Asia, and Africa

India: Wheelchair users will be able to reserve accessible compartments on all 1,300 Indian “mail express trains” within coming months, with two lower births for wheelchair users, accessible toilets, and wheelchair securement features. Accessible compartments will then be added to other categories of rail transport, according to a report from Sanjeev Sachdeva of Samarthya. . . . Nearly 200 bus stops are being redesigned with access features in New Delhi. . . . Jamie Osborne, Fixed Route Accessibility Coordinator for San Francisco, California’s, public transit agency, met with Sachdeva and his associate Anglee Agarwal in New Delhi, to discuss technical issues of transit accessibility in July during meetings arranged by AEI. It is hoped that San Francisco’s long experience in this field will be of benefit to our colleagues in India. . . . Osborne went on to meet with advocates and planners in Singapore.

Vietnam: A Ho Chi Minh City bus cooperative began operating five disabled-friendly buses with low floors and ramps on two routes in September, 2006. The city has more than 10,000 people with disabilities needing to use public transport for their daily commute. More than 4,000 disabled commuters have already received free bus passes and the number is expected to double in coming months. (Report from the Union of Transport Cooperatives in HCM City)

Japan: The 2nd International Conference for Universal Design was held in Kyoto in October, 2006. . . . Only 5% of Japan’s 1,100 passenger ferries are currently barrier-free, but the government has adopted an ambitious plan to make half the fleet barrier-free by 2010. (Report from Daisuke Sawada)

Malaysia: Disability advocates in Kuala Lumpur are seeking assurances that a new monorail line will be accessible while also seeking accessible bus stops and enforced access standards when new facilities and transportation are planned.

Cambodia: A report from Healthlink Worldwide in the United Kingdom finds that low-income and rural disabled persons have great difficulty making their voices heard, noting that “for geographic and logistical reasons (disability NGOs) tend to represent urban, better-off disabled people from in and around the capital.” (One likely reason it that low-income disabled persons do not have access to transportation to get to meetings to organize themselves. – Ed.)

Thailand: Disabled People’s International of the Asia-Pacific Region has continued to protest several inaccessible design features of the new Suvanabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, according to a report from Topong Kulkhanchit.

Turkey: Low-floor trams and buses are being introduced in Istanbul and some other major cities. . . . A disability law passed in 2005 seeks to phase in access features in municipal transit systems over the next seven years, as well as create designated parking spaces for disabled persons. The Turkish government has established an Administration for Disabled People within the office of the Prime Minister, with information in Turkish and English at www.ozida.gov.tr. English speaking readers may contact Ad van Herk at aherk@ubak.gov.tr for further information. (Reports by Ad van Herk and Tulay Alkan-Atalay.)

Pakistan: A draft national Accessibility Code with public transport requirements was presented at a two-day National Conference in Islamabad this past August. It is planned that regulations to implement the Code will follow. (Report by Topong Kulkhanchit)

Zambia: At the invitation of the GTKP in the United Kingdom, AEI has provided input in response to advocacy to form a national policy framework on accessible transportation in Zambia.


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