Inner West Light Rail. Image: Transport for NSW

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By Emily Contador-Kelsall

Marrickville Council is taking action against the lack of wheelchair access along the Inner West Light Rail Extension.

This week council wrote to Transport for NSW (TfNSW) expressing “disappointment that the Inner West Light Rail Extension continues to preclude independent access to the vehicles”.

According to council, this concern was passed on to TfNSW various times during the design and construction of the light rail. Marrickville’s Transportation, Planning and Advisory Committee has previously contacted TfNSW over the issue.

The concern is based on the fact that there is no mechanism for wheelchair users to travel from the street to the platform without external assistance.

Marrickville Mayor Mark Gardiner said council could only assume that TfNSW does not understand why independent access is needed and why assisted access is the totally wrong approach for this mode of transport.

“Assisted access is impractical for all light rail users regardless of how many have a disability. It is impractical and inefficient for staff and will be more costly and time consuming to operate safely.”

“TfNSW was focused on cost and compliance, and not functional transportation.”

Mayor Gardiner said council understands the situation is about a generous interpretation of the disability standards for transport (the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport), which was drafted prior to 2002 and does not address light rail access requirements.

“TfNSW has taken the position that the lack of access is compliant with the conditions of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), and relevant DDA standards that allow for “assisted access” where the alternative would incur an “unjustifiable hardship” to the provider.”

Providers and operators of public transport must comply with the minimum accessibility requirements set out by The Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport.

The Inner West Light Rail is not the only public transport in Sydney hindered by accessibility problems.

According to TfNSW’s website, in 2012 only 42.7 per cent of train stations on the Sydney network were ‘Easy Access’ wheelchair accessible stations, a figure that was projected to rise to 52.1 per cent by 2015.

In their Transport for NSW Disability Action Plan 2012 – 2017, TfNSW said: “While not all these [train] stations will be fully compliant with every element of the Transport Standards after completion of works, access that has not previously been available to customers with limited mobility will be provided sooner.”

Mayor Gardiner said Light Railway Stations could not fully function as transport facilities until all commuters have equal access.

“It is imperative to address accessibility issues – or we will have poorer transport services for those in our community who will already be hindered by limited mobility and isolation.”

“It’s a big issue for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids along with friends and families travelling with them but it also effects all our residents with access needs including older people and parents with prams – who undoubtedly cannot fully use the interchange. This is a missed opportunity.”

TfNSW refuted the complaint.

“Transport for NSW is committed to providing safe, reliable and accessible public transport for customers. Independent wheelchair access is available to all light rail stops along the Inner West network,” a spokesperson said.

“To ensure wheelchair access between light rail vehicles and stops, an access ramp is provided on-board all vehicles and staff are on hand to provide assistance, similar to the Sydney Trains network.”