Pressure grows for accessible tram stops in Sydney Road
Rally will be held later this month to campaign for improvements
A BRUNSWICK man is preparing to take legal action against the Victorian government over its failure to install accessible tram stops in Sydney Road.
Christian Astourian, who lives with cerebral palsy and uses a motorised scooter to get around, has been waiting more than two decades for the government to improve public transport accessibility in Sydney Road.
In all that time, despite the introduction of low floor trams, just two accessible stops have been built – one of them at Brunswick Road and the other 5.5 kilometres further north at the last stop on the line.
Mr Astourian says the government has not complied with the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport, and he is in the early stages of preparing a case under state anti-discrimination laws.
With the Upfield railway line expected to be closed for several years during the construction of the skyrail, Mr Astourian says building accessible tram stops in Sydney Road is now a matter of urgency.
He is one of the key organisers of a rally to held on June 17 for accessible tram stops not only for wheelchair users, but parents with prams, elderly people and other people who have temporary or permanent mobility difficulties.
Mr Astourian is worried that his daily commute to his job as a disability program manager in St Albans, which usually takes him about 45 minutes each way by train, will double if there is no alternative in place when the skyrail works begin.
“I think now is the perfect time to build accessible tram stops and a bicycle path on Sydney Road,” Mr Astourian said.
“If it is not done, [when the Upfield line is closed] it will make my life very difficult and it would mean it’s going to take a lot longer to get to my job.
“Last year in December, they closed the Upfield line for a few weeks and when that happened, it took me one and half hours to get to work … [But] it’s not only about me, it’s for everybody in the community, parents with prams, elderly people, people who may have a temporary impairment or injury.”
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Merri-bek City Council is backing the rally after its recent skyrail policy paper, Reshaping Brunswick, 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.
“It’s really important to make the Sydney Road tram stops fully accessible now before the only other form of accessible public transport in the area is disrupted by the State Government’s level crossing removal works,” said Mayor Angelica Panopoulos.
Sydney Road Brunswick Association manager Troy Stuchbree said the traders’ body supported upgrading the precinct to make it more accessible but construction had to be managed in a way that would minimise disruption for business owners and their customers.
Mr Astourian moved to Brunswick 23 years ago to be closer to Melbourne University and because he expected there would be more accessible public transport in the area.
Disability advocates successfully lobbied for an accessible tram stop that was built at Brunswick Road about a decade ago to accommodate low floor trams, but they are frustrated at the lack of progress since then.
“Over the years they started to bring in low floor trams,” Mr Astourian said. “I could look at them and say how beautiful they are but I couldn’t board them.”
Mr Astourian said the construction of accessible tram stops in Nicholson Street and High Street, Northcote, had been a success and showed how it could be done in Sydney Road.
But during a recent meeting with an advisor to Transport Minister Ben Carroll, he said he was told that accessible tram stops for La Trobe Street in the city were higher up the list than Sydney Road.
“It’s not a matter of money,” Mr Astourian said.
“They’ve got the money to build the skyrail. It’s a matter of priorities for the government … I’m very disappointed with the way the Victorian government prioritises tram stops. It’s a joke.”
Brunswick MP Tim Read, who will speak at the rally, agrees.
He said there was clearly public support for accessible tram stops, and upgrading Sydney Road with wider footpaths, accessible tram stops, street trees and protected bike lanes had been costed at $49 million, just 3% of the cost of the level crossing removals.
“The Victorian Labor government has shrugged off their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act – and frankly, their lack of action on accessible tram stops at this stage amounts to discrimination,” he said.
“The government needs to ensure accessible transport options are maintained when the Upfield train is closed, and the best way to do this is to fast-track the construction of accessible tram stops.
“They should also establish a pop-up separated bike lane on Sydney Rd before the Upfield bike path is closed, to ensure people riding bikes have a safe way to get to and from the city and around Brunswick.”
The Department of Transport and Planning has delivered 44 accessible tram stops since 2014, and recently completed upgrades of pedestrian safety at five key intersections along Sydney Road between Albert Street and Harding Street in Coburg.
But the department is refusing to commit to improving accessibility in Sydney Road.
“Making our public transport network accessible to all Victorians is a priority and we are delivering projects that are making a real difference across the state,” a department spokesperson said.
“We will be rolling out 100 new and accessible Next Generation Trams across Melbourne from 2025 and we’re working to deliver improved infrastructure, making the network progressively more accessible.”
For Mr Astourian, accessible public transport is a matter of human rights.
“Of course there’s an element of discrimination because under transport standards all state and territories have agreed with the federal government 21 years ago, they were supposed to make all public transport accessible by the end of last year and it didn’t happen. So they don’t really follow their own commitments.”
This will be the basis of legal action he is planning to take, most likely through Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
Mr Astourian said he is hoping several hundred people will turn out for the rally on June 17. It will begin at Wilson Avenue at 11am and will march up Sydney Road to the Brunswick Town Hall.
Mr Astourian is also the organiser of a petition to State Parliament about the issue.
The campaign for accessible tram stops is backed by a number of organisations including the Disability Resource Centre, Public Transport Users Association, Walk on Merri-bek, Merri-bek Bicycle Users Group, Brunswick Residents Network and two health unions.
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