More disabled-friendly public transport ordered: The Star – April 14, 2009

The following is an excerpt from the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 (Akta Orang Kurang Upaya 2008):

Access to public transport facilities

27. (1) Persons with disabilities shall have the right to access to and use of public transport facilities, amenities and services open or provided to the public on equal basis with persons without disabilities.

The issue about access to public transport for disabled people has been left lingering since the time disabled people came out to protest against Star LRT for barring us from taking the trains in 1994. More recently, when Dato’ Seri Chan Kong Choy was the Minister of Transport he had a meeting with disabled people at his ministry where he announced that all public transport will be made accessible. My friend Robert Wang and I approached Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat in August 2008 regarding the same issue when he came to Pandan Perdana to officiate an event at the Pandan Lake.

Today, The Star reported that Minister of Transport Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat has directed agencies under the Ministry to provide accessible facilities. It is time the Ministry of Transport stop dilly dallying with lip service only to this long standing issue and work together with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to look for ways to resolve it for once and for all.

The article quoted the Minister of Transport as saying that he had come across some cases where physically-challenged individuals struggled to get onto public transport. Struggling is an understatement. For wheelchair users, it is an impossibility. It is physically challenging for us all right. These challenges are created by a non-inclusive public transport and casued by the lack of enforcement of the Uniform Building By-Law 34A.

The government has acknowledged that access to public transport is a right for disabled people. So why are accessible facilities still not provided in this area? How long more do disabled people have to wait to be able to use public transport? And whatever happened to the Master Plan on Public Transportation Policy commissioned by the Ministry of Transport on 2008 under the Abdullah administration?

The Star Online
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Tuesday April 14, 2009
More disabled-friendly public transport ordered

KUALA LUMPUR: Agencies under the Transport Ministry, including KTM Bhd, have been directed to come out with more facilities to make it easier for the disabled who use public transport.

Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat said yesterday there was still room for improvement in the facilities provided for the physically-challenged.

“We are aware that a lot of public transport facilities do not take their needs into consideration.

“At the fourth quarter of last year, I instructed several agencies under my ministry to take into account the needs of these individuals,” he told reporters after opening the KKAJ Vocational Centre for the Disabled in Bandar Baru Ampang here yesterday.

Overcoming obstacles: (From right) Resorts World Bhd deputy chairman Tun Hanif Omar sealing a packet of roasted green peas in the presence of Ong and Resorts World Bhd executive director Tan Sri Alwi Jantan during the opening of the KKAJ Vocational Centre for the Disabled in Bandar Baru Ampang in Kuala Lumpur.

Ong, who is the patron of the centre, said he had instructed the agencies to speed up the process.

“I wish to see the public transport system, whether it is under the purview of my ministry or other ministries, to take this matter seriously.

“I know it is not easy and there are a lot of obstacles but we must endeavour to overcome the challenges,” he said.

Ong said he had come across some cases where physically-challenged individuals struggled to get onto public transport.

“I do not think it is fair.”

Earlier in his speech, Ong said physically-challenged individuals needed assistance not in the form of welfare.

“They need help in the terms of training opportunities to excel in life and to compete with others. These are the key parameters that we should set our sights on,” he said.

The KKAJ Vocational Centre for the Disabled is set up by Resorts World Bhd and Kelab Kercergasan Ampang Jaya to give disabled people a chance to acquire skills and to earn an income for themselves.

The centre provides training in paper lamination, document binding and food packaging.

Prasarana And Its Disabling Assets

There are two things that disable people. One is attitude, the other is the environment. Of the two, attitude is the most difficult to change yet is the easiest to do. All that is needed is to understand the Social Model of Disability. Nevertheless, people still have the perception that people are disabled by their conditions and therefore are to be blamed if they cannot use public amenities. Furthermore, facilities suited for use by disabled people are often delegated to the lowest of priorities because disabled people are not considered productive citizens worthy of the money spent.

Is it that difficult to see that what is good for disabled people is good for everyone else? Countries like Japan and Australia have already adopted inclusive policies that require that public amenities are accessible to everyone. It was in Tokyo that I experienced real liberation as a wheelchair user for the first time. If that can be done in Japan why then can it not be done here in the spirit of Malaysia Boleh?

Apparently people who are in position to change things are not interested to make Malaysia an inclusive society. They prefer to cling on to their prejudices and cocoon themselves in their own comfort zone. They refuse to lift a finger to improve the situation but prefer to turn a blind eye to the fact that disabled people are in Malaysia are so marginalized that many are living in conditions of abject poverty.

Now I begin to understand why the advocacy for accessible public transport in Malaysia has not moved forward as fast as I had expected. It was naive on my part to think that the situation can be easily resolved by writing a few letters to the authorities concerned and meet with ministers to lay out the problems to them.

National Summit on Urban Public Transport

I discovered this sad fact at the National Summit on Urban Public Transport organised by Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI) at The Gardens Hotel and Residences last Thursday. Datuk Ong Tee Keat officiated the summit. In his keynote address he said the following among others:

It is also essential to highlight, that a public transport is not an exclusive domain of sections of the population, but must cater for all. The disabled community is an integral part of our communities and I do urge that their needs must be integrated in our public transport planning.

Although I have an inherent mistrust of politicians delivering well crafted speech and not fulfilling it afterwards, I am going to give Datuk Ong the benefit of the doubt and welcome this statement. I believe that he is serious in resolving the transportation woes of disabled people. The only ironic thing about this entire matter is that the Minister of Transport does not have full control over the regulation of public transport in Malaysia. It is being jointly regulated by thirteen agencies with some having overlapping jurisdiction over another.

My main purpose in attending the summit was to see what is being done to make public transport accessible. When Syarikat Prasarana Negara Berhad (Prasarana) Chief Executive Officer Shaipudin Shah Harun spoke during the panel session titled “Towards an Efficient Urban Public Transport System,” I was all ears.

Prasarana is the asset owner of RapidKL. It owns all the RapidKL and Rapid Penang buses, Kelana Jaya Line and Ampang Line light rail transit networks, KL Monorail and the Langkawi Cable Car System. Prasarana in turn is a wholly-owned government company under the Ministry of Finance Inc.

RapidKL bus at Pandan Perdana
Photo by Wuan.

At the Q&A session afterwards, I asked the following:

When we talk about public transport, why are disabled people left out of the equation? Is Prasarana going to buy non-step buses from now on or continue to put buses with steps on the road?

Below are Shaipudin’s response transcribed from the video recorded by fellow participant Naziaty Yaacob:

The issues of building structures. What good would it do for you to be able to get up a bus which is low floor and then you have pavements which are uneven with manholes uncovered.

The country as a whole must have what you call a real policy on the issue of the OKU.

We try our best. As for the same question, for all the new facilities that we are putting up, the trains and all that, for the new lines, the extension lines, all the needs of the OKUs are being registered and will be taken for but as I said there will not be the end to the answer to your problem.

What happens when you leave our stations? Are the streets friendly enough for you?

This is not a Prasarana question question alone.

The problem here is not only faced by OKU. Even the able people too are having problems. How many walkways do you see along the streets which enable us to walk conveniently?

RapidKL bus at Pandan Perdana
Photo by Wuan.

My question to Prasarana was actually very straightforward. A simple “yes” or “no” would have sufficed. Instead, Shaipudin gave a discourse on the inaccessible built environment. I do not disagree with his view that disabled people may face problems after getting off the buses. Nevertheless, Prasarana should just concentrate in ensuring that all its buses, trains and terminals are fully accessible. The municipals councils are the parties responsible for the built environment other than those owned by Prasarana and that matter should be left to these municipalities to resolve. If Prasarana is going to wait until the built environment is fully accessible before they change the entire fleet to non-step buses, disabled people may have to wait another ten years or even longer to be able to use public transport.

Shaipudin also argued that non-disabled people are also facing problems with the built environment. It is true that non-disabled people encounter such problems too but that does not usually prevent them from getting to the bus stop to catch a bus. Additionally, it does not take long to add ramps to existing walkways. The 500 meter stretch in Pandan Perdana including the bus stop, although not built to specifications, was made accessible in a period of less than one month.

Non-step bus with the ramp deployed
Non-step bus with the ramp deployed in Seoul, Korea.

Truth be told, I am ignorant of the lifepspan of RapidKL’s buses. Lets guesstimate that these buses are phased out after ten years of service. If the municipal councils are able to make most of the bus stops accessible within two years from now, that means disabled people have to wait at least five more years for the current buses to be replaced with non-step ones. And if Prasarana continues to put new buses with steps into service, how long more before disabled people can ride in public buses?

Prasarana as the asset owners with its hardware paid for from the people’s money via the Ministry of Finance Inc. must ensure that all buses purchased in the future must be accessible to everyone. Non-step buses are most suitable for this purpose. Such buses are widely available and used in major cities in the Asia Pacific countries like Japan, Korea and Australia. These buses are not only convenient for wheelchair users but for senior citizens and people with mobility impairments, pregnant women and children. What is good for disabled people is good for everyone else.

Wheelchair user boarding the non-step bus
Boarding the non-step bus in my wheelchair in Seoul, Korea.

What I cannot understand is Prasarana’s reluctance in making all their new buses accessible. Is Prasarana going to lose anything by including the transportation needs of disabled people? Everybody benefits if these buses are accessible. The Minister of Transport has already acknowledged that disabled people are an integral of the community. Why then is Prasarana continuing with its disabling policy that marginalizes disabled people?

Without access to public transport, disabled people are unable to achieve a reasonable quality of life. We are unable to go to schools and go to work. We are unable to participate in social, cultural, religious and political activities. Prasarana’s is attitude in this issue is most baffling. It has failed in the task entrusted to it by the government to provide the assets to RapidKL and Rapid Penang to run a public transport service to benefit everyone.

RapidKL And RapidPenang – Will Disabled Persons In Malaysia Ever Get To Ride in Public Buses?

Najib also said that the Transport Ministry was taking steps to address complaints by the disabled community that RapidKL and Rapid Penang buses were not disabled-friendly despite their earlier appeals.

The Star – Thursday August 9, 2007: New, bigger LCCT to be built

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s statement concerning RapidKL and RapidPenang is most welcomed. However, nasi sudah jadi bubur. It is good if the Ministry of Transport make good the statement by Dato’ Seri Najib but I should not be faulted for being cynical. Despite assurances by Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop in the press on March 18, 2007 that RapidPenang’s buses will be “disabled friendly” none were. On top of that RapidKL Chief Operating Officer Mohd. Ali Mohd. Nor informed the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) during a meeting on March 10 that the 150 buses for RapidPenang would be accessible to wheelchair users which obviously was misleading.

Retrofiting the buses already running on the roads in Penang is going to cost a lot more as compared to bringing in non-step buses in the beginning. The reason for not acquiring non-step buses for RapidPenang was given by Penang State Traffic Management Committee Chairman Dato’ Dr. Teng Hock Nan on April 26. He was reported by The Star in Buses for disabled later to have said, “The state government will bring in buses equipped with facilities for wheelchair passengers once the new RapidPenang bus system is running smoothly” because “buses with facilities for wheelchair passengers would have to stop longer for boarding and could disrupt arrival schedules.” I wrote an entry to rebut his baseless and discriminatory statement.

As for RapidKL, 100 non-step buses that they brought in were fitted with ramps and wheelchair docking systems without consultation with disabled persons on whether the fittings would be functional and safe. When BEAT viewed the buses for the first time after they were fitted, we informed Mohd. Ali Mohd. Nor that the ramps were too short and were poorly designed. In later meetings with RapidKL Corporate Communications Division Senior Manager Katherine Chew we were told that the fittings were of international standards. When questioned further what international standards were used, we were told on one occasion that it was the Swedish standards and another occasion the Australian standards. Whatever standards that were used, they certainly did not meet Malaysian disabled persons’ standards as the ramps and docking systems were neither safe nor functional. The accessible buses were to be launched on June 1 has been postponed indefinitely because of those concerns raised by BEAT.

In a meeting on May 25 chaired by the Timbalan Ketua Setiausaha (Perancangan) Kementerian Pengangkutan Malaysia Datuk Long See Wool regarding accessibility in public transport initiated by Minister of Transport Dato’ Seri Chan Kong Choy, BEAT was informed that RapidKL buses do not come under the Ministry of Transport. The Ministry of Entrepreneur and Co-operative Development are responsible for issuing licenses to buses and taxis. Therefore Datuk Seri Najib’s statement that “the Transport Ministry was taking steps to address complaints by the disabled community that RapidKL and Rapid Penang buses were not disabled-friendly despite their earlier appeals” came as a surprise. Which ministry exactly is in-charge of RapidKL? I would also like to know what steps the Ministry of Transport are taking to enable disabled persons, especially wheelchair users, to use public transport. Why was this issue not addressed at the planning stages of RapidPenang especially when BEAT had already handed a recommendation to Dato’ Seri Chan Kong Choy on March 12? The following is an extract from the recommendation:

Pengangkutan Awam Di Pulau Pinang
BEAT mengalu-alukan pengumuman oleh Perdana Menteri pada 20 Februari 2007 bahawa Rapid KL akan menubuhkan satu rangakaian bas awam di Pulau Pinang yang diberi nama RapidPenang. Kami berharap RapidPenang tidak membuat kesilapan sama seperti di Lembah Klang di mana keseluruhan perkhidmatan bas awam adalah tidak mudahcapai dan tidak mesra OKU.

Kami berharap Kementerian Pengangkutan bekerjasama dengan Kementerian Kewangan dan mana-mana kementerian lain yang berkenaan untuk mendapatkan bas non-step untuk kesemua 150 buah bas yang dibeli kelak. Golongan OKU tidak seharusnya menderita disebabkan oleh kesilapan sesetengah pihak yang tidak mengambil kira keperluan OKU dan mereka yang mengalami kesulitan pergerakan yang ingin menggunakan perkhidmatan bas awam.

Pada masa yang sama, rancangan rel bandaraya Pulau Pinang yang telah diluluskan mesti mudahcapai kesuluruhannya apabila beroperasi nanti. Tidak ada sebab yang munasabah mengapa golongan OKU disisihkan lagi dalam projek ini yang sepatutnya memanfaatkan semua lapisan masyarakat.

Dalam pada itu, kami menyeru Kementerian Pengangkutan, Kementerian Kewangan, Rapid KL, RapidPenang dan mana-mana pihak yang mewakili pengurusan projek tersebut untuk berbincang dengan pihak-pihak yang mempunyai kepentingan (stakeholders) dalam perkhidmatan bas awam di Pulau Pinang, khususnya pengguna-pengguna bas dan pertubuhan-pertubuhan OKU untuk menyelami keperluan mereka serta mendapatkan maklumbalas dan keperluan mereka dalam pembangunan yang terbaru ini.

I rest my case.