I have so much to say about our recent trip to Sydney, especially about our foray into learning about ABR, but that will have to wait – it will be a LONG post, and I don’t have much time here.
What I DO have time for, is a critique of the Sydney rail system. Actually, the words ‘damning report’ might be a little more suitable!
It’s not the first time I’ve been to Sydney, but it sure was the first time I discovered just how ridiculously inaccessible the train system is for physically disabled people/parents with prams etc. And this in turn has made me realise just how incredibly GOOD access is in my home city, Melbourne.
The main problem is that at most suburban train stations there are stairs in Sydney (going UP from the platform) as opposed to ramps in Melbourne (going down from the platform). I know that they can’t totally be blamed for this design flaw, as the system was built a very long time ago. However, I am appalled by how little has been done to rectify the problem and makes things more accessible.
Unfortunately, several of our destinations required us to arrive and depart from stations with no access. This meant we needed help to get up and down each set of stairs. THANK-YOU to all the kind young gents of Sydney who offered this help (especially to the guy carrying a large guitar case over his shoulder as he helped haul 15kgs of BC + pram down the stairs!). Thanks also to the lovely ticket seller who left his booth to help us up a nearby short flight of stairs, apologising profusely as though it were entirely his fault that the stairs were there in the first place. He grumbled that they could easily have placed a ramp there instead and yes, most definitely they could have!
Unfortunately for us also, when we arrived at one of the main central train stations which DOES have lifts from every platform, the lift that we needed was out of order. I asked one of the staff if he could help us up the stairs. ‘Easier if you take a train to the next station’ he said. ‘The lifts are working there’. Easier for who?? Not us, as the station we were at was right where we wanted to go. When I then asked the staff member if HE could help us up the stairs (unfortunately there were no young Sydney gents around to offer), he pointed to BC and said ‘Just get him to get out and walk up. Then you can carry the pram’. I pointed out that he would if he could, but he can’t walk. To which he replied, ‘Well, how was I supposed to know?’. Then shrugged, and walked off. SO I carried him up the stairs myself. SIGH!
Even more unfortunately we found ourselves back at that exact same train station a few days later. I was sure there was NO way we could need the SAME platform with the broken lift, and anyway, surely the lift would be fixed? This was one of the biggest stations in the city! But nope. No lift. And yep, you guessed it. We needed to get to that same platform. Fortunately though, we found some much more helpful CityRail staff who gladly assisted us to the platform. I asked one how long the lift had been out. ‘Over a week’, he said. ‘They’ve been and looked and reckon it’ll be a lot longer too. She’s stuffed’ (Aussie speak for very broken, possibly beyond repair).
I was going to raise with him the question of why there weren’t announcements at every suburban train station heading to that platform that the lift was out of order, but realised that it was hardly his fault, and he’d been so helpful that I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. BUT I am drafting a letter to the powers that be at CityLink (and the Sydney Morning Herald) as we speak.
So, is this a case of good old Melbourne/Sydney rivalry? I don’t think so, at all. As I said, I honestly had no realisation about how GOOD access is on the Melbourne rail network until I discovered how BAD it is on the Sydney network.
And even though I’ve been mostly focusing on the physical access to and from the platform, there’s loads more. Poor signage, poor access to ramps to and from trains, less staff for assistance – I could go on.
And you want some stats to prove my point? Well, here they are:
There are definitely still problems in Melbourne. A percentage of our famous city trams are hard to access because of steps and only 50% of buses are wheelchair accessible.
BUT in the 4 years since having children (and regularly using public transport) we’ve not faced as many challenges accessing transport as we did in our 4 days in Sydney. Sort it out Sydney!!!