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Accessible Transportation Around the World

June 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.

Don’t miss “The Story of Accessible Transport in the UK” – a first hand report following the news articles in this edition.

Will development institutions lead, or follow?
UN Convention will impact access to transport

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly. The process by which individual nations may sign and ratify the Convention began on March 1, 2007. The first human rights treaty of the 21st Century, the Convention will enter into force for the ratifying countries upon being ratified by twenty nations, which is expected prior to the end of the year. The treaty was signed by the European Union as a single legal entity – a first in the field of human rights. The Convention addresses the full spectrum of rights and fundamental freedoms needed by disabled persons.

Countries (States Parties) signing the Convention are to “undertake or promote research and development of universally designed goods, services, equipment and facilities . . . (and) promote universal design in the development of standards and guidelines” (Article 4). Article 9 of the Convention, on Accessibility, requires that nations ratifying the Convention “take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment (and) to transportation. . . .”

Those interested in learning more about the Convention may go to www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable, while information on how to develop a successful ratification campaign is available from Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) at www.icrpd.net. The Convention will be the main item on the agenda of the 7th World Assembly of DPI, planned for Seoul, Korea, September 5-8, 2007.

AEI’s Executive Director participated in a World Bank workshop on the implications of the Convention for its transport and social sector staff, held in Washington, DC, in June with participation from other development agencies. Yet, even as the Convention moves forward, observers are concerned about the capacity of major institutions to implement its provisions. For example, staff attrition at the World Bank has – at least at this time – decreased that institution’s ability to come to grips with disability issues, while some other development institutions have yet to assign dedicated staff to monitor and champion this work.

Eighty-five countries have signed the Convention, which now needs to be ratified by each country. Those in less wealthy countries need to be aware of the treaty obligations and to request assistance when needed to meet these obligations in terms of transport, health, and other areas. The Convention opens the door to enhanced international cooperation and provides the tools to promote the rights of disabled persons in general, and, in particular, to promote “mobility for all” around the world.

SRI LANKA: Conference Promotes Mobility for All

“Transport and Mobility” was one of the key topics when more than 450 participants gathered in March, 2007, for a two-day conference on Mainstreaming Disability into Development in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Ranjith de Silva, Regional Coordinator of the IFRTD for Asia, provided a keynote address on “Improving mobility for reduction of poverty and isolation.” “Our environment is disabled (by its failure) to accommodate people with disabilities to the mainstream development process,” noted Mrs. V. Jegarajasingham of the Ministry of Social Services. To learn more, go to http://practicalaction.org/?id=diriya_2007.

CANADA: TRANSED 2007 in Montreal a major success

The 11th Int’l. Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons in June marked a return to North America for the world’s premier conference in our field. Access Exchange International was represented by Tom and Susan Rickert. Richard Weiner, the President of the AEI Board of Directors, was on hand representing Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates. Our next newsletter will include a report on this highly successful conference. AEI also played an active role in past TRANSEDs, participating in conferences in Lyon (1992), Reading (1995), Perth (1998), Warsaw (2001), and Hamamatsu (2004). The next TRANSED is scheduled for 2010 in Hong Kong.

TURKEY: International Forum in Istanbul Focuses on Accessible Transportation

A pioneering conference with a hundred participants was held in April, 2007, in Istanbul under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, with participation by key Turkish academic and government authorities. International perspectives were provided by Sandra Rosenbloom (USA) and Ann Frye (UK), as well as by Ad van Herk (Netherlands) who is currently working with the Turkish Transport Ministry. Meanwhile, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism is promoting a range of accessible tourism initiatives and a guide has been prepared titled Barrier Free Istanbul for All to assist disabled visitors. A new policy framework aims at enhancing access for all over the next seven years. (Report courtesy of Ad van Herk)

VIET NAM: Ho Chin Minh City Tests Accessible Bus Modes

The Saigon Coach bus system is now testing a lift-equipped bus with a view toward service expansion if test results are favorable. In addition, the Ho Chi Minh City Federated Cooperative of Transportation has provided four low-floor buses on two routes, with possible future expansion if issues of cost, road pavement quality, and flooding problems can be addressed. The HCMC People’s Committee and other departments have established a policy of waiving all fares for disabled passengers. AEI’s Executive Director presented accessible transport concepts to officials of the HCMC People’s Committee and the Saigon Transport Company during a visit in 2004 sponsored by Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped. (Report from Toan Bui of VNAH in Hanoi)

INDIA: Rail, Bus, & AutoRickshaw Access Begins to Improve

Recent developments in India are pointing the way toward significant improvements in access in coming years. Advocacy has been spearheaded by Samarthya, the National Centre for Promotion of Barrier Free Environments for Disabled Persons, through conferences, publications, access audits, and the promotion of research. 1,250 accessible railroad coaches have been manufactured for nationwide use and India’s North Eastern Railway reports plans for improvements in response to a spectrum of complaints by disabled passengers. Bus Rapid Transit systems are now proposed in many Indian cities and construction has begun for the initial corridor of a BRT network for Delhi. 625 wheelchair accessible ramp- and kneeler-equipped low-floor buses have been ordered by the Delhi Transport Dept. and low-floor buses are being introduced in Calcutta and elsewhere. Work has started on 222 improved bus shelters in Delhi. Voice-enabled fare meters and Braille plates which especially assist blind persons are being introduced on Delhi’s auto rickshaws. And a fleet of ramp-equipped taxicabs is reported in operation in Mumbai. (Information sources for this article included Haroon Yusuf, Sanjeev Sachdeva, Anjlee Agarwal, Disability News India, The Times of India, The Hindu, and the Hindustan Times Mumbai Edition.)

Converting laws into reality
Step by Step Planning Leads to Solid Results in Brazil

A seminar on urban mobility in Brasilia in December, 2007, helped set the pace for the systematic implementation of Brazil’s ambitious ten-year program to make public space and public transport accessible in Brazil’s cities. The week-long event was organized by Brazil’s Ministry of Cities and highlighted issues of access to public transport in the context of access to all aspects of urban infrastructure.

The forum provided a venue for launching a set of six detailed manuals on creating an accessible environment, to be distributed to 45,000 architecture students and 5,000 teachers as well as all cities of over 60,000 inhabitants. The manuals cover all aspects of policy and implementation of Brazil’s accessibility legislation. The manuals also cover the technical details of implementing accessible public transport, while a companion manual presents good practices already found in more than twenty Brazilian cities. 

Meanwhile, Brazil has enacted an accessibility code for maritime transport (ABNT NBR 15450:2006: Passenger access to waterway transport), continuing a methodical process of setting standards for accessibility to various transport modes. (AEI thanks Renato Boareto and Angela Werneck for input into this article.)

BRT Accessibility Guide a needed tool

Bus Rapid Transit: Progress Amidst Problems 

The World Bank’s new Bus Rapid Transit Accessibility Guidelines, compiled by Tom Rickert of Access Exchange International, has come on the scene at a time of rapid growth amid widely-publicized startup problems for some newly initiated systems. Problems with the startup of the Transantiago BRT system in Santiago, Chile, created a political crisis complete with an apology by the Chilean President and the firing of four ministers. As with startup problems in Jakarta and elsewhere, the problems have been found to result from planning and implementation issues rather than the core technology features of BRT systems. A recent editorial in the Transport Innovator of Breakthrough Technologies Institute suggests a need for international standards to improve BRT quality and safety while reducing costs. Such standards would “safeguard against repeating mistakes, and provide quality assurance.” The purpose of the Bus Rapid Transit Accessibility Guidelines is to address such issues as they pertain to services for disabled passengers, seniors, and others who especially need universal design features.

Meanwhile, cities in developing countries continue to initiate new BRT systems. Mexico City is expanding its Metrobús system with a new 18-kilometer corridor to open by the end of the year and two new corridors per year are scheduled for the next six years. Johannesburg is planning the new Rea Vaya BRT, to open in 2009 with six routes on 96 kilometers of corridors as only the first phase of a far larger system. Bogota’s BRT system, while facing severe financial problems, is also expanding. Plans for Istanbul’s BRT system are in the midst of an approval process. Pune, India, inaugurated a pilot system in late 2006. See our past Newsletters for other BRT news. (Sources of information for this article included AEI, Breakthrough Technologies Institute, BBC News, Gerhard Menckhoff, Claudia Sanchez, Luis Becerra, and Sibel Bulay.)

Printed copies of the Bus Rapid Transit Accessibility Guidelines are being disseminated by Tom Rickert of AEI as part of the task of compiling the guidelines and are also available from the World Bank. Or type the title in the search box at www.worldbank.org to download a copy. A complimentary CD of the English and Spanish guidelines, with important supplemental resources, is now available and may be obtained by contacting Access Exchange International or the World Bank.

News and Notes from Around the World

United Arab Emirates: The city of Dubai has announced plans for a broad spectrum of accessible transportation features, including audible pedestrian signals, the initiation of low-floor buses, elevators at 45 pedestrian bridges, modifications to five taxis, and access features for the Dubai Metro. (Report by gulfnews.com and Topong Kulkhanchit). . . . An Arabic version of International Best Practices in Universal Design was presented at a conference on accessibility in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, in March (Report from ABC-Discapacidad, Mexico).

China: A new accessible bus line recently opened in Shenzhen, China, with 25 accessible buses serving a 25 kilometer long line, reports Huang Suning of the Shenzhen Disabled Persons’ Federation. . . . Thanks to the initiative of Carol Schweiger of TranSystems Corp. in the USA, a special session on “Mobility for the Elderly and Disabled Traveler” will be part of the World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems to be held October 9-13 in Beijing. More information is found at www.itsworldcongress.org. . . . Twenty modified buses are now in use in Beijing. In order to view photos, go to:
We thank Sandra Curtin in Washington, DC, for bringing this Peoples Daily
article to our attention.

Kenya: The Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya reports their disabled members have produced thousands of business tricycles in Nairobi and Mombasa, for use by disabled persons for transport, sports, and small businesses throughout Kenya. Information at apdknbi@africaonline.co.ke.  

The European Commission: A two year ‘Euro Access’ project has been funded to establish the current state of accessible public transport in all 27 member states and then to develop examples of best practice and guidelines on how to transfer good practice successfully from one country to another. (Report by Ann Frye) 

• Learn about accessible public transportation in the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, and France by downloading a study mission report on the web site of the USA’s Transportation Research Board at www.trb.org/news/blurb_detail.asp?id=7354. This valuable report details findings in eight cities by a dozen USA transit agency staff on a mission sponsored by the Eno Transportation Foundation.

Canada: Contact harvey.goldberg@chrc-ccdp.ca for a copy of International Best Practices in Universal Design: A Global Review, published by the Canadian Human Rights Commission. This comprehensive research document compares the latest accessibility standards in fourteen countries for 31 design elements for the built environment. 

USA: 96.9% of the USA’s public transit buses are now accessible, according to an American Public Transportation Assn. 2006 database cited by Project ACTION. Most are equipped with lifts, while more than a third are now equipped with ramps. Over a third of American buses now have automated stop announcements, a feature especially helpful to passengers with vision impairments. . . . The USA’s influential ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles are now undergoing revision. Go to www.access-board.gov for updates. . . . International engineering students interested in graduate studies in accessible transportation are invited to contact Katharine Hunter-Zaworski at the National Center for Accessible Transportation at Oregon State University, information at http://ncat.oregonstate.edu. . . .AEI provided materials for an accessible transit exhibit at the World Bank’s annual Transport Forum in March, 2007, in Washington. . . . In April, we hosted Prof. Lalita Sen, a colleague in our field and a pioneer of mobility in India. . . . And our director recently met with Scott Rains, the author of the daily RollingRains Report on travel, disability, and universal design. Check it out at www.rollingrains.com. . . . Practitioners from many countries participated in January, 2007, in the 9th Annual Roundtable on Accessible Transport in the Developing World, held in Wasington, DC, and sponsored by Access Exchange International and the Int’l. Centre for Accessible Transportation (ICAT). . . . AEI’s President, Richard Weiner, recently interviewed our Executive Director, Tom Rickert, concerning his thoughts about our work 16 years after founding our agency. Contact us if you would like a mailed copy of this “behind the scenes” look at our work.

News from Latin America & the Caribbean

Mexico: A new accessibility standard was published in January, 2007, for buildings, pedestrian ways and public space in Mexico. To view the standard, go to http://diariooficial.segob.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=4945156. (Report by Taide Buenfil Garza in Mexico City)

Honduras: A policy framework and a new law promoting accessible transportation are in place, but much remains to be done to actually implement this legislation, reports Yolanda Dominguez de Coello of FUHRIL in Tegucigalpa.

Guatemala: Central American and Mexican delegates participated in a regional seminar on Access to Public Space in Antigua, Guatemala, in February, 2007. The event was sponsored by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation. (Report by Carlos Nuela, CONAIPD, El Salvador)

Saint Lucia, West Indies: International efforts are helping a small island to become more accessible in what could be an example for other small nations. Walter Spillum and other collaborators in Japan and elsewhere have been working with disability agencies to upgrade the accessible transportation of residents and tourists visiting the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia – an effort headed up by Lancia Isidore of the St. Lucia National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities. (Go to www.geocities.com/ncpdinc) Ms. Isidore was able to attend a recent conference of the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH) in Miami. In addition, a small World Bank grant to promote accessible tourism in St. Lucia will be supplemented by a donated vehicle.

Central America: AEI is seeking funds to enable us to lead workshops on accessible transportation in response to invitations or expressions of interest received from key agencies in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Changing Minds, Changing Laws

The story of accessible transport in the UK

by Ann Frye

Ann Frye was Head of the Mobility & Inclusion Unit in the UK Government's Department for Transport from 1980 to 2006 and was responsible for introducing and implementing the transport provisions of the Disability Discrimination Acts of 1995 and 2005 and for a wide ranging programme of research, education, and development of best practice in the accessible transport field. She is now working as an independent consultant advising public, commercial and professional bodies in the transport field on policy solutions to mobility needs in transport across all modes.

This is the third in a series of first-hand reports about “making access happen” in different countries.

The UK approach to accessible public transport over the past twenty years can perhaps best be described as a mix of persuasion, pragmatism and politics!

We took the view that it was important not to introduce laws requiring access until we could demonstrate workable technical solutions. We started out, in the late 1970s and early 1980s with research to find out what the optimum design solutions were to meet the needs of people with different mobility or sensory difficulties. Around the same time the Government established the Disabled Persons’ Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC). Set up with a remit in law to advise the Government on meeting the needs of disabled people, the Committee comprises a majority of disabled people but also includes experts in the design and delivery of transport. DPTAC led the debate to identify problems and agree on priorities.

The first signs of change were simple low cost improvements to buses based on research evidence; for example features such as colour contrast in vehicle interiors and palm operated bell pushes to help people with low vision or limited dexterity. 

In a country where most bus operation is commercial and has no state funding, it was vital to make an economic as well as a social case for accessibility. The Government provided vehicles on free loan to operators to demonstrate the benefits of low floor accessible buses. It soon became apparent that there was a significant additional passenger market among people travelling with small children or heavy shopping.

Only then – in 1995 – was legislation introduced. A deliberate – and controversial – decision was taken to keep transport outside the civil rights parts of the Disability Discrimination Act and to tackle it instead by means of technical requirements.

The thinking behind this approach was the need for compatible and practical standards of access. A wheelchair user, for example, would need to know that every stage in a journey involving taxi, train and bus would be manageable. That could only be done by setting the same dimensional and performance requirements for all three.

Buses, coaches, trains and trams are all now covered by regulations which applied first to new vehicles and then, after sufficient time for vehicles already in service to complete their working life, will apply to all vehicles on the road. Vehicles are checked and inspected for accessibility before they are licensed or authorised to go into service. If they do not comply they are not approved. The first regulations, for trains, came into force in late 1998 and to date just over one third of the national rail network is compliant with the new requirements – although virtually all trains provide some degree of accessibility. By 2020, all trains in service must meet the requirements.

Bus regulations came in at the end of 2000 and just under 50% of the bus fleet nationally is now accessible. In all the major cities, where new buses are introduced with greater frequency, accessibility is at or very close to 100%. All single deck buses must be accessible by January 2016 and all double decks by 2017.

The UK approach to accessibility can also be characterised as: “Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good”. In other words, it is often impossible – at least without high cost – to achieve ideal accessibility from day 1. An incremental approach can prioritize the use of scarce resources and take advantage of opportunities as they arise, such as specifying access features when new buses are procured.

Of course, it is not always easy to make the economic case for accessibility. One such example is long-distance coaches (over the road buses). The loss of space and therefore of seating capacity and profit margin involved with getting wheelchair users on board is a real challenge but design solutions have been found - through joint working between manufacturers, operators and Government – and growing numbers of the inter-city coach routes are now served with accessible vehicles incorporating a lift which is part of the front steps and floor tracking with removable seats to minimise seating loss.

The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games to be held in London have also provided a major incentive to operators to invest in new accessible vehicles.

Taxi access is proving another challenge and national regulations are not yet in place. However, because the traditional design of the London taxi with a high roof and flat floor lends itself to wheelchair access, requirements have been in place in London and many other major cities for many years and since January 2000 all 20,000 London taxis have been accessible – not yet to the ideal standards but good enough to allow hundreds of taxi journeys every day by wheelchair users and better than any other city in the world.

Today, the transport access problems that remain are, for the most part, not about dimensions but about attitudes. Drivers who refuse to operate a ramp or who deny access to a person with a learning disability are still not too uncommon. However, with training programmes now in place for all transport staff and legal penalties to enforce against those few who are acting out of malice rather than ignorance, the situation is improving.

Other remaining problems include vehicles parked at accessible bus stops as well as obstacles and hazards in the pedestrian environment but here too a mix of education and enforcement is beginning to bring real improvements. 

Could we have done things differently? Certainly with higher levels of Government funding and with stronger laws it would have been possible to deliver accessible transport faster. But it would not necessarily have been so comprehensive, ensuring that the needs of people with a wide range of disabilities are met, nor so sustainable, ensuring that transport providers understand and are committed to the delivery of fully accessible public transport.

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