Volume 10, Issue 3
"Melbourne may be the most liveable city in the world, but when I’m sitting in the freezing cold at a brand new accessible tram stop watching old inaccessible trams roll by – I often wonder… liveable for whom?"
It’s not hard to imagine the frustration.
Picture leaving home early to get to a 9am meeting. It might be a meeting with a client, a meeting with your boss or, hell, it might be a three-hour law exam worth 100% of your total mark.
Naturally, you allow time for inevitable delays.
You arrive at the tram stop with plenty of time. South Melbourne isn’t very far away from the city – you’re going to be early! You’re going to be able to prepare the office for the client, you’re going to make a good impression on your boss or you’re going to be at the exam venue with no stress and patiently wait to grab your seat – ready to ace the exam. Heaps of time.
The tram comes quickly, but as the doors open you see that the whole tram is packed to the brim. The next one comes and it’s the same – packed. Eight more roll past. And you’re still waiting at the stop.
You’re going to be late.
Frustrated? Of course you are. Understatement of the century.
If this was actually happening – having to wait due to overcrowded trams there would be public uproar that the tram services weren’t meeting demands.
But this is not happening. At least not due to trams being too crowded.
I’ve often sat at a tram stop for 20 minutes and watched 12 trams roll past – and I can’t get on any of them. My issue isn’t because they are too crowded to get on – most of them are entirely empty.
My issue is that the trams aren’t low floor trams.
For a long time, I have put up with it. I’ve been living in Melbourne for over six years and there is no doubt that over this time there have been improvements in accessibility – particularly the development of accessible stops on Swanston Street. Prior to the development, I used to be only able to get on at the University of Melbourne tram stop and get off at Flinders Street Station.
This kind of development has continued. Last year, two new accessible trams stops have been developed between Domain Interchange and the Arts Centre – right near where I live.
And don’t get me wrong – this is great. But I’m failing to see the point of building up all these new and accessible trams stops, within 200m of each other, when money should be put towards adding more low floor trams to the tram network.
One of the main reasons I chose to live in South Melbourne was to have access to what is meant to be one of the most accessible streets in Melbourne and yet I find myself continuously frustrated as I sit at raised platform stops watching stair tram after stair tram roll past.
The words of the late Stella Young keep echoing in the back of my head – I can have the most positive attitude in the world, but no amount of smiling will help get me on the next tram which is about to roll up – because chances are it won’t be a low floor tram.
Last weekend I snapped. It was a Sunday afternoon and being the middle of winter, rain was inevitable. Planning ahead so I could avoid being out in the wet for as long as possible, I went to use the Journey Planner offered by Public Transport Victoria. I was heading to Flinders Street Station from the Shrine of Remembrance and was trying to find a tram to catch. But after fiddling with the search criteria, to my rage, the only option that was offered for my journey was to ‘walk’.
Slightly miffed, I decided to write a complaint. It wasn’t very long or detailed, but it was sent to Yarra Trams and I complained that I had had to ‘walk’ to Flinders Street station because of the lack of low floor services for that day. I told them I wasn’t impressed and that they should put more low floor trams up St Kilda Road on Sundays.
I wasn’t expecting this complaint to do anything. At the end of the day, the issue is one of funding and while Yarra Trams is trying to slowly, and I mean SLOWLY, phase out all the old trams to make an entirely accessible network, the response I received to my complaint was the most condescending and patronising e-mail I have ever received. This is what I got:
Dear Mr Holland,
Thank you for taking the time to contact Yarra Trams with your feedback regarding access to low floor trams.
On behalf of Yarra Trams please accept my apology for the frustration and inconvenience you have experienced.
I have reviewed our automated vehicle monitoring and confirm there were 3 low floor trams between 10am and 11.40am which stopped at stop 19 – Shrine of Remembrance which were travelling into the city. I can advise that Sunday is actually our lowest patronage day of the week, as such we rest our larger low floor vehicles for the week ahead and provide limited services on each corridor.
I understand this may be most inconvenient, however with journey planning using the tram tracker app which provides the low floor symbol next to services – I have attached a screenshot of the low floor symbol which is a wheelchair.
I hope this information helps you next time you are looking to head into the city on a Sunday or any other day of the week.
Enraged by this response, I decided to respond:
Dear Ms *****,
Thank you for your overly condescending and patronising e-mail.
I am beyond pleased that the larger low floor vehicles were given their rest over the weekend. They must need it after a long week transporting passengers to and from places! Screw the old trams… may as well run them until they die.
I’m glad you understand that your transport inconveniences me. As a female law graduate with a disability, it’s good to know you understand that you are offering a discriminatory service.
I have conducted my own review, and can confirm that Yarra Trams estimates that the Melbourne tram network consists of roughly 500 trams. The tram fleet consists of five different types of low-floor trams; 35 C-Class trams, five C2-Class trams, 37 D-Class trams and 20 D2-Class trams. The Victorian Government has commissioned Dandenong-based company Bombardier to produce 50 new ‘E-Class’ trams for the Melbourne tram network which will gradually roll-out by 2018.
But even with these 50 new trams, only 29 per cent will be wheelchair accessible.
Twenty nine per cent.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act, section 5 prohibits treating people with disabilities less favourably than others because of disability. Only providing 3 low floor services within the space of two hours is not what I would call treating people with disabilities on an equal basis with others. Frankly, I’m sick of sitting at a raised platform stop and watching countless stair trams roll past.
I can advise that even though Sunday is your lowest patronage day of the week, this does not mean that there are fewer wheelchair users that use the tram network. In fact, it is more likely that a higher number of wheelchair users and the elderly will use the tram network on Sundays as to avoid the crowds during the week which often overfill your trams, especially since you decided to make transport within the city free.
I would also like to advise you that route 19, which goes past the Royal Melbourne Hospital, regularly runs low floor trams, but there are no raised platform stops. Further, route 59, which has accessible stops, runs no low floor trams services. Can you please advise on the logic behind this?
Additionally, thank you very much for your screenshot of the low floor symbol of a wheelchair. Having been in a wheelchair my whole life it definitely brought clarity to what a wheelchair actually is.
I have attached a screenshot of a list of unisex names for your education. In a professional context, if unsure of the gender of a complainant, you should either address the individual with ‘Sir/Madame’ or simply use their first name.
I hope you find this information useful.
If you could please forward on the contact details of someone I can contact about taking this complaint further, both about the lack of low floor trams and the quality of complaint responses, that would be appreciated.
Over the past year I’ve been doing a lot of work on campaigning for the rights of wheelchair users in relation to the effects of Uber on the wheelchair taxi industry. In fact, I am making a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into ride sharing/ride sourcing this week. But to be completely honest, I gave up on trying to order wheelchair accessible taxis in Melbourne a long time ago and trams are my main form of transport. But in the last month, I’ve sat at trams stops for more than 20 minutes watching stair trams roll past, been told that the only low floor service for the next 15 minutes will be terminating at Queensberry Street and I need to ‘walk’ the rest of the way to Melbourne University and also had a tram driver close the doors on me not once, but twice after I wheeled after the tram because it was going to be the only route 96 tram for the next half an hour.
Melbourne may be the most liveable city in the world, but when I’m sitting in the freezing cold at a brand new accessible tram stop watching old inaccessible trams roll by – I often wonder… liveable for whom?
Alex Holland finished the JD in July. The above article was originally published on the 4th of August 2016 on Alex’s blog. You can find the blog here: https://defyingdisability.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/its-time-to-talk-trams/
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