Public transport should be accessible and affordable to all. In this era, it is no longer a privilege but a necessity. It reduces the number of vehicles on the road thus reducing fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. Unfortunately, wheelchair users are left out from the public transport system in Malaysia due the lack of foresight of the government and the reluctance to implement universal design principles in the infrastructure.
Wheelchair users who need to travel around often have to look for alternative modes of transport. Many of us have to depend on family and friends to ferry us around. This is subject to family and friends being able to take leave from work or when they are free. The few who have the means drive. The severely limited choices in public transport have left many stranded at home.
Mobiliti is the first organization in the country to provide door-to-door lift van service for a nominal sum of RM3 per trip to any destination within the Klang Valley. The daily demand for such service far outstrips what the five lift vans can handle. Earlier in the year, the Majlis Perbandaran Petaling Jaya (MBPJ) took the initiative to provide a similar lift van service to wheelchair users living in Petaling Jaya.
It must be stressed that such door-to-door lift van service is not a solution to an accessible public transport system for disabled people. Mass public transport such as buses and light rail transits are still the preferred options due to its wide coverage and availability. On the other hand, lift van service needs to be booked in advance. It is also resource-intensive due to the limited number of trips that it can make in a day and the number of wheelchair users that it can carry. Nevertheless, the availability of such modes of transport is a welcome relief while we wait for the government to draw up an inclusive transport master plan and effectively implement it.
On the same matter, it distressed me greatly to read a very caustic letter published in the ILTC Malaysia blog regarding the abuse of lift van service provided to disabled people by the MBPJ. The mail was sent to the Mayor of Petaling Jaya by ILTC President Francis Siva complaining that wheelchair user Bathmavathi Krishnan is filthy rich, has a maid and owns a car, and for those reasons, she is not entitled to use the service.
Francis’ arguments are without basis. Such form of transport service should be provided to all wheelchair users irrespective of their financial standing or social status. Many of us own cars and drive not because we are rich. We are forced to drive because that is the only form of mobility for us who need to travel often. Now that the MBPJ is providing such service, wheelchair users have another mobility option to choose from. To deny this service to a wheelchair user based on the arguments above is a blatant discrimination.
In advocating for our rights, we should not deny others theirs. This is one of the basic principles disability-rights advocates must adhere to. We should not, at any time, segregate disabled people into classes, be it social, financial, colour or creed. We have been fighting against exclusion for a long time. We know all too well the pain of being marginalized. Therefore it is contradictory to exclude one of our own based on discriminatory criteria.