Accessible Transport - Market Forces V Human Rights?
MCKEE, Cambell, Independent Consultant in Accessible Transport, UK
Over the past fifteen to twenty years, there has been a growing awareness throughout the Western world, of the needs of disabled people. For many years, and even currently in some cultures, disabled people were viewed as a problem, either to be kept out o
Over the past fifteen to twenty years, there has been a growing awareness throughout the Western world, of the needs of disabled people. For many years, and even currently in some cultures, disabled people were viewed as a problem, either to be kept out of sight, or to be helped by various charitable means. Gradually, society has come to reeognise that disabled people are people, with a full range of abilities and needs, for education, employment, and social and leisure activities.
In many countries, this social awareness is being underpinned by legislation to provide civil rights for disabled people. In recent years, the most important legislative frameworks include The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, the Australian Disability Discrimination Act of 1992, the New Zealand Human Rights Act of 1993, and more recently the UK's Disability Discrimination Act of 1995. Other, broadly similar, measures are under active consideration in other countries of Europe, and the European Commission has a number of anti-discrimination measures in train in various policy areas.
A key element in removing discrimination against disabled people, and in providing access to jobs, schools and other activities, is transport. To achieve this, there must be accessible transport available. All the above legislative measures recognise this, and incorporate requirements for the provision of fully accessible transport systems. Again, at the European level, the recent Citizen's Network Green Paper has accessible transport systems at the heart of future European transport policy.
Such legislative frameworks are following a considerable amount of work over the past decade or so in developing vehicles and transport systems to meet the needs of disabled people. There has been a process of evolution, initially from "welfare" vehicles, often provided by charitable organisations, through structured approaches to "specialised " vehicle operations, to the current position of attempting to set up the mainstream public transport systems to be fully accessible to disabled people.
Bringing accessibility into mainstream transport operation introduces new challenges and conflicts. These are exacerbated by the progressive moves, in many countries, towards privatised public transport operation. The burden of the cost of providing accessibility therefore falls on the private operators, who are uncertain about the potential return on this additional investment. It is this trade-off between the social need for accessibility, and the financial assessment of its effects, which lies at the heart of the transport policy debate in this field.
Association for European Transport