Politicians can say the darndest things. Occasionally, they are humorous. More often than not, their glaring idiocy is evident by the ignorant statements that they issue and the desperate backpedalling to contain the damage afterwards. And then we have Penang State Traffic Management Committee chairman Dato’ Dr Teng Hock Nan who was reported by The Star to have said “buses with facilities for wheelchair passengers would have to stop longer for boarding and could disrupt arrival schedules.”
Hello Dr. Teng, what century are you living in? While many cities in other countries have already implemented inclusive transportation policies, here you are taking Penang and Malaysia back to the stone age of public transportation. Yabba dabba doo. Do you realise that bus schedules can be disrupted by many other factors including weather and traffic conditions, and buses breaking down? Why are you putting the blame on wheelchairs users only? Since you are so keen in ensuring that the buses keep to the arrival schedules, why not get cars, motorcycles, lorries and vans off the roads to eliminate traffic jams that Penang is now notorious for so as to ensure that the buses arrive right on the dot?
Dr. Teng, your logic truly baffles me. Lets say there are ten people waiting for a bus at one stop. The time they take to board the bus will definitely be stretched by two to threefold as compared to the boarding duration of one or two passengers. Will this not disrupt arrival schedules as well? Is the bus going to pick these ten passengers up at the peril of messing up the bus schedule? Or are you only singling out wheelchair users for the delay because it is easier to victimise us?
Accessible buses have come long way from the early days when lifts were fitted to get wheelchairs into high-platform buses. Boarding a wheelchair-using passenger 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 as compared to the thirty seconds taken by a non-wheelchair user. Therefore, your reasoning that boarding wheelchair users will delay the arrival schedule of buses is moot. How much headway can you gain from the extra thirty seconds?
You also said that “the state government will bring in buses equipped with facilities for wheelchair passengers once the new RapidPenang bus system is running smoothly.” How long will it take before the RapidPenang bus system will run smoothly? RapidKL has been at it since 2004 but the system is still far from perfect. What if the bus system continues to be plagued by kinks after ten years?
Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Dato’ Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil has stated that Malaysia will sign and ratify the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) with some reservations during a seminar on the Convention in March. She also informed participants that the Disabled Persons Bill will be tabled in the Parliament later this year. How will a statement by a top state government officer like you reflect on Malaysia’s commitment to both the CRPD and the Bill?
Article 9 in the CRPD states that “To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas.”
Truth be told Dr. Teng, your statement reeks of discrimination. In the same breath, you said that “such buses do not fit into the first phase of the RapidPenang bus service system which we have to ensure runs efficiently first.” By saying that, you have effectively segregated disabled persons from mainstream society. Fifty years ago in the USA, people were segregated in public buses based on their skin colour. Fifty years later in Malaysia, people are being denied the use of public buses based on their physical impairments. The issues may seem different but in reality it is different sides of the same coin.
Our nation is celebrating her fiftieth year of Independence. If we still cannot get this right after fifty years, we have not progressed at all. Apakah maksudnya kemerdekaan sekiranya segolongan masyarakat masih sengaja disisihkan dari arus pembangunan negara? It is also ironic that we will soon have a Malaysian in the International Space Station 350km above us but a wheelchair user cannot even travel conveniently from his house in Gelugor to Gurney Drive which is a distance of about 20km apart only.
Disabled persons must be included in mainstream society. We are the public. We are you. Why are you treating us like second class citizens in our own country? Why must the needs of society at large precedes those of disabled persons? Can we not grow at the same pace? Disabled person are already lagging so far behind in all aspects. Now that the government has the opportunity and the resources to help bridge the gap, you are still not willing to do it. Why? These are questions begging answers. Public transport must be for all, not only for those who can walk. Apa macam Dr. Teng?