Originally Posted April 26, 2015
Transport Reporter for The Age
Melbourne’s expanding fleet of low-floor trams are being allocated to tram routes that lack wheelchair-accessible stops, while accessible tram stops are being built on routes that have no low-floor trams.
The unco-ordinated rollout of platform stops and low-floor trams has been attacked by transport and disability advocates, who argue it continues to deny too many people access to public transport.
By law, 80 per cent of Melbourne’s tram network must be accessible by 2017 and the network must be fully accessible by 2032, with low-floor trams and platform stops end-to-end on every route.
Yet, the rollout of each has been piecemeal. Low-floor trams have recently started operating on route 19 to Coburg North, even though the route has no level access stops north of the CBD.
It is just the third route in Melbourne that will be fully serviced by low-floor trams.
Meanwhile, tram routes that pass the nearby Parkville hospital precinct are dotted with new accessible tram stops, but are still serviced by some of the oldest trams in Melbourne, which require passengers to use steps to get on board.
Hospital visitors will likely have to wait a few more years until accessible trams begin to appear on those routes. Yarra Trams’ 2014 tram “cascade plan” indicates “expansion of low-floor routes into the north-west” will occur from 2018 to 2020.
There are almost 400 low-floor tram stops in Melbourne and they have been built across the network, as this map shows, yet most of those stops are in suburban locations that have never had a low-floor tram.
Public transport advocate Daniel Bowen said planners were picking the low-hanging fruit when selecting where the stops would go.
“I suspect what they’re doing is, where it’s easy to do the planning and just bung it in, they’re putting in those platform stops, but the problem then is they’re not co-ordinating it with where they put the low-floor trams,” Mr Bowen, a spokesman for the Public Transport Users Association, said.
The Victorian Council of Social Service has also called for better co-ordination, so that the new trams and accessible stops are rolled out in the same places.
“It’s not just about counting low-floor trams and stops, it’s about those two working together to create accessible journeys,” chief executive Emma King said.
In the past week, Yarra Trams has begun a project to extend the life of its fleet of 130 B-Class trams, which are not low-floor, until 2032.
Ms King said running the B-Class trams for another 20 years would likely cause Public Transport Victoria to miss its accessibility milestones.
“If there are 130 B-Class trams on the network, and the expectation now is that they’ll be kept in service for the next two decades, I can’t see how PTV are going to meet their legal requirements,” Ms King said.
A PTV spokesman said public transport accessibility was a key priority but the project was complex and each stop often required a unique engineering solution.
“Surrounding land use and road design need to be considered and the local community and traders consulted with,” the spokesman said.
Low-floor trams were being incrementally expanded to routes with the greatest need, he said.