Meeting Regarding Accessibility in Public Transport for Disabled Persons

Thirteen representatives from the Barrier-Free Environment Group (BEAT) attended a meeting chaired by the Timbalan Ketua Setiausaha (Perancangan) Kementerian Pengangkutan Malaysia Datuk Long See Wool together with representatives from related government agencies Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan (JPJ / Road Transport Department), Lembaga Perlesenan Kenderaan Perdagangan (LPKP / Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board), Jabatan Penerbangan Awam (Department of Civil Aviation), Jabatan Laut Malaysia (Marine Department Malaysia); service providers Malaysia Airport Holdings Berhad (MAHB), Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAS) and Rangkaian Pengangkutan Integrasi Deras Sdn. Bhd. (RapidKL). This first meeting was held at the Kementerian Pengangkutan Malaysia in Putrajaya.

During the meeting, BEAT stressed on the importance of an accessible public transport system in Malaysia and that transport operators should use the term “universal accessibility” instead of “disabled friendly”. The term “disabled friendly” gives a connotation that such transport are especially for disabled persons only when in reality it also benefits senior citizens, pregnant women and adults with prams, among others.

BEAT called on the ministry in cooperation with the LPKP to draw up guidelines and standards for accessibility of public transport and to ensure that all new buses of all bus operators are accessible. With regards to vehicle modifications for disabled persons, the Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan was requested to simplify the application process and reduce the number of trips applicants have to make to Putrajaya. On the issue of licenses being tagged to a specific car, JPJ clarified that it was not an official procedure and that they will look into it.

Briefly, the other issues that were brought up touched on the timeframe to make all public transport accessible including buses, monorails and trains. At the same time, supporting infrastructure such as transport hubs, terminals and connecting pathways should be made accessible too without which the accessible transport would rendered unusable. The many points raised during the meeting were compiled into a document from feedback and suggestions by BEAT members and presented to Datuk Long and all present. All parties agreed to look into the issues raised and where possible resolve them before the next meeting.

Dato’ Dr. Teng Hock Nan’s Unfounded Statements About Accessible Buses

Peter Tan speaking at the Forum on Public Transport for Disadvantaged Group
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.

First fallacy
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.

Second fallacy
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?

Third fallacy
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?

Fourth Fallacy
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.

Related entry:
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

Disabled Persons’ Endless Problems With Public Transport

Accessible RapidKL bus at KLCC
Photo by Wuan.

During RapidKL’s accessible buses pre-launch briefing for the media, Chief Operating Office Mohd. Ali. Mohd. Nor announced that 100 accessible buses will be put into service in the Klang Valley on June 1. These buses will only serve the trunk lines and city shuttles but not the local shuttles that serve housing estates. This defeats the purpose of putting these buses in service as wheelchair users will be unable to get to the trunk line hubs from their homes. Mohd. Ali should realise that the last mile connectivity is as important as the trunk lines and city shuttles.

Another major area of concern is the mismatch of height between the bus stops and the buses. The difference can be as much as 9 inches, rendering the gradient of the ramp too steep even with assisted boarding for wheelchair users. This is prevalent in most of the bus stops that the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) and officers from RapidKL discovered during a preview of the buses.

Local authorities are responsible for infrastructure such as bus stops and walkways. They must work hand in hand with RapidKL to ensure that this problem is resolved soonest possible. Additionally, walkways must be made accessible as required by the Uniform Building By-Law 34A (UBBL 34A). This by-law had been gazetted by the various state governments in the mid-90s. Unfotunately, the requirement of this by-law is ignored most of the time, leading to the pathetic and dangerous state of the walkways that exist now.

Disabled persons cannot and should not be expected to advocate to so many different ministries on only a single issue like public transport. For example, we have met with Deputy Minister of Finance Datuk Dr. Ng Yen Yen and Minister of Transport Dato’ Seri Chan Kong Choy. RapidKL is owned by Syarikat Prasarana Negara Berhad which is the holding company under the Ministry of Finance Incorporated. At the same time RapidKL is also under the purview of the Ministry of Transport. Additionally, due to the bus stops being inaccessible, we have to advocate to the various local authorities which is under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Menteri Besar. And that is only one thin slice of the issues that affects disabled persons.

Dato’ Seri Chan had the foresight to establish a high level public transport advisory committee chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General of the ministry to look into the grouses of disabled persons with regards to public transport. According the him, it was set up as a single platform for disabled persons to voice out their problems without the need to run around to meet the different transport operators individually. For this, Dato’ Seri Chan gets two thumbs up.

However, it is time the government see the bigger picture of the problems faced by disabled persons. It is neither feasible nor cost effective to address issues on a piecemeal basis. The most apparent example is the mismatch of height between RapidKL’s accessible buses and bus stops. Solving one problem creates a host of other problems. It is a never ending cycle. By the way things are being done now disabled persons will still be facing barriers come the next fifty years.

Several leaders in the disability movement in Malaysia have suggested that a division be set up within the highest level of the government, namely the Office of the Prime Minister, to oversee and manage all issues related to disabled persons. With that, we do not have to scamper from one ministry to another to have our voices heard and our issues resolved. As far as we can see, this is the most effective solution. Apa macam Pak Lah?