News / Transport

Accessible tram stop protest halts traffic on Sydney Road

More than 100 people attend rally and call for action within two years

Protesters led by Christian Astourian (front right) and Emilio Savle (front left) head up Sydney Road on Saturday.

Mark Phillips

CAMPAIGNERS for accessible tram stops in Sydney Road are vowing to hold more protests like the one that brought traffic to a standstill for an hour on Saturday if their demands are not met.

More than 100 protesters attended a rally on Saturday, holding up half a dozen trams in both directions at the Dawson Street intersection and forcing cars to find alternative routes while they marched up Sydney Road.

Police closed a 400 metres section of the road to allow the rally to go ahead.

Protesters included wheelchair users and parents with children in prams and strollers who are all calling for the state government to install accessible tram stops in Sydney Road before construction works begin on the Brunswick level crossing removal project.

The level crossing works are expected to begin within two years and will force the closure of the Upfield railway line for at least 18 months, leaving people with mobility issues with few options for accessible public transport for that period.

Currently, there are only two accessible tram stops in a 5.5 km stretch of Sydney Road from Brunswick Road to the end of the tram line in North Coburg.

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Merri-bek Councillor Sue Bolton, one of the co-organisers of the campaign, said accessible tram stops were now a matter of urgency.

In its recent skyrail policy paper, Reshaping Brunswick, the council highlighted concerns about the temporary loss of the Upfield line during the construction works. The council is pushing for a full revitalisation of Sydney Road as part of the level crossing removal project.

“There have been people over many years [who have] advocated to state government for accessible tram stops,” Cr Bolton said.

“The time for politely asking is over, because they haven’t responded to polite requests and polite advocacy. So we need to step it up.

“And there is a crunch point because … in two years time, the government will shut the Upfield train line for 18 months to two years in order to remove eight level crossings in Brunswick.

“So we’ve got a deadline. Two years is sufficient time to do accessible tram stops.

“And if they need to delay the level crossing project, in order to do the tram stops, we’re okay with that. 

“Accessible tram stops are more important. And if there are no accessible tram stops by the time that shut the line, we will be taking direct action.”

Sean Cox with his dog Aoife with trams lined up behind them at the protest on Saturday. In 2016, Mr Cox , who has multiple sclerosis, lodged a human rights claim against Yarra Trams for refusing to lower ­accessibility ramps along the number 19 route. This led indirectly to the accessible tram stop at Brunswick Road.

Wheelchair user Christian Astourian, a Brunswick resident and disability rights advocate, is preparing to take legal action, most likely through Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, over the failure to install accessible tram stops.

“Accessible transport is not only a matter of convenience but also a matter of dignity, basic human rights and inclusion,” Mr Astourian told the rally.

“For people with a disability, elderly people, parents with prams and anyone who has mobility challenges, for too long these members of our community have been excluded from the public transport system, forcing them to rely on expensive or unreliable alternatives or simply have been left behind.”

Ally Scott, a campaigner from the Disability Resources Centre said under the commonwealth Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport, all state governments were required to public transport infrastructure fully accessible by the end of last year.

But only 15% of Victoria’s public transport had achieved that target by the deadline, she said.

“Make no mistake, our government is aware of their obligation,” she said.

“They understand the significance of inaccessible public transport. They understand that it’s a thing. And they understand that it will cost a certain sum of money, which is insignificant.”

After marching from Wilson Avenue, the rally congregated outside the Brunswick Town Hall at the intersection of Dawson Street and Sydney Road, where several wheelchair users, including Bram Heinrich-McPartlan, the chair of the Merribek-Council Disability Reference Group, attempted unsuccessfully to board a tram.

Bram Heinrich-McPartlan, the chair of the Merribek-Council Disability Reference Group, attempted unsuccessfully to board a tram.

They said improving public transport accessibility effectively future proofed public transport for everyone, including people who were fully mobile today but may have issues as they get older.

“We need to show that the community cares because it’s not just for the people using disability specific aids now, it’s everyone … More accessibility just means more usability for everyone,” they said.

Brunswick MP Tim Read is sponsoring a petition to the Legislative Assembly on behalf of Mr Astourian which is calling for the installation of accessible tram stops in Sydney Road before the Upfield line is closed for the skyrail project.

“Public transport isn’t public until all the public can use it,” he said.

Dr Read said it would cost about $75 million to install accessible tram stops on Royal Parade and Sydney Road between Parkville and North Coburg, or about 1/20th of the estimated $1.5 billion that the Brunswick level crossing removal project will cost.

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