Photo by Wuan.
Basically, my presentation at the Forum on Public Transport for Disadvantaged Groups was to debunk the baseless arguments perpetrated by RapidKL CEO Rein Westra and Penang State Traffic Management Committee Chairman Dato’ Dr. Teng Hock Nan on accessible public transport with regards to wheelchair users.
The roads in Penang are said to be bumpy and are not suitable for non-step buses. It is ironic that we can build one of the best highway network in Asia but we cannot even construct proper roads in the cities. But that is beside the point. This was the same excuse given by RapidKL CEO Rein Westra when BEAT met him in October 20, 2006 which was minuted as follows:
“Christine then asked what would prevent Rapid KL from buying non-step buses from now on. Westra explained that low floor non-step buses were too low to drive on KL roads…..”
Now we have 100 low floor non-step buses all over the Klang Valley. The road condition in the KL is still the same in October last year and now.
Newspaper report quoted Dr. Teng as saying that:
“The state government will bring in buses equipped with facilities for wheelchair passengers once the new RapidPenang bus system is running smoothly.”
(The Star – April 26, 2007: Buses for disabled later)
How long will it take before the RapidPenang bus system can run smoothly? Six months? One year? Two years? RapidKL has been in operation since 2004 but the system is still far from perfect. What if the bus system is still not running smoothly after ten years?
If you ask bus users in KL, many will tell you that RapidKL is not running smoothly. If you ask RapidKL, they will admit that their bus schedule is still not perfect. RapidKL buses are supposed to run every 15 minutes during peak periods. A lot of times, the interval between buses are between 30 to 45 minutes.
Nevertheless, come June 1, RapidKL will be launching 100 accessible buses in the Klang Valley. Is there anything that RapidKL can do that RapidPenang cannot do? If RapidKL can use accessible buses that includes the needs of disabled persons when their service is still not running smoothly, whey can’t RapidPenang do the same?
In the same newspaper report, Dr. Teng was also quoted saying as follows:
“…buses with facilities for wheelchair passengers would have to stop longer for boarding and could disrupt arrival schedules.”
(The Star – April 26, 2007: Buses for disabled later)
Accessible buses have come long way from the early days when lifts were fitted to get wheelchairs into high-platform buses. Boarding a passenger on wheelchair with the lift can take up to five minutes. The advancement in bus building technology and design has brought about the proliferation of non-step buses where unassisted boarding time for a wheelchair user was considerably reduced to less than one minute. On May 17, Christine timed herself boarding one of RapidKL’s accessible buses. It took her less than one minute to get into the bus. A well-trained driver can do a four-point strap tiedown in less than one minute. Is a two-minute delay too much? Is it even considered a delay?
Bus schedules can be disrupted by many other factors including weather and traffic conditions, drivers slowing down to have a good look at the number plate of cars involved in accidents so that they can go buy 4D later, buses breaking down and passengers digging their purse for loose change, parents with 5 kids in tow and senior citizens who have mobility problems. Picking up passengers will also delay bus schedules. Wheelchairs users should not be blamed for delays that can be caused by so many of these factors.
To put the blame of bus delays solely on wheelchair users is akin to blaming wheelchair users for slowing down the progress of our country. There is such a thing called reasonable accommodation where if it does not cause undue hardship to others, it should be provided. Is a 2-minute delay considered undue hardship? Many of us have experienced traffic jams that delay our journeys by 30 minutes or more. Who should we blame for the traffic jams?
Again, I am going to quote Mr. Rein Westra who said he “did not have time to find out what different users needed from buses” because when he took up the position as CEO of RapidKL in 2004, he only had 2 weeks to decide on the type of buses to get. Fair enough.
There is no reason now after so many months of being educated on the needs of disabled persons and wheelchair users, why RapidPenang, which is a subsidiary of RapidKL and shares the same management and technical expertise, is still making the same mistakes that RapidKL made. Looks like bus operators pun mudah lupa. Looks like we have a lot of people who do not know what they are talking about in positions of power.
Public transport must be for all, not only for people who can walk. In fact, disabled persons need transport even more as many of us cannot afford other modes of transport such as taxis. I just got my driving license but given a choice, I would prefer public transport over driving the reason being that I need to transfer into the car and need someone to store my wheelchair in the boot and reverse the process when I reach my destination. With an accessible public transport, I do not need to get off my wheelchair to go anywhere. An accessible public transport is even more crucial for persons with severe physical impairments as they cannot be easily transferred without the assistance of two or more carers. Do we have a government that cares enough to resolve this problem? Sometimes I wonder if we even have a government that cares.
The Star – May 21, 2007: Group: Survey not necessary
NST – May 20, 2007: Disabled want access to buses
Memorandum Regarding Accessible Buses For Disabled Persons To Dato’ Dr Teng Hock Nan
The Star – May 20, 2007: Survey on needs of the wheelchair-bound
Forum on Public Transport for Disadvantaged Groups