News / Transport

Tram protesters take their action to the streets

Trams on a major stretch of Sydney Road from Brunswick to Coburg North do not have wheelchair access

Protesters in Sydney Road on Thursday. Photo: Ed Gorwell

Mark Phillips
Thursday, March 24, 2022

DOZENS of disability activists and supporters blocked trams on Thursday morning as part of a campaign to improve accessibility to public transport in Sydney Road.

The protest, which was joined by Moreland Mayor Mark Riley and councillors James Conlan and Sue Bolton, was part of a day of action at five locations in Victoria by the Transport For All coalition, which includes the Disability Resources Centre, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union and Friends of the Earth.

Sydney Road, Brunswick’s main thoroughfare, currently has no accessible tram stops in a 5.5km stretch between Brunswick Road and Bakers Road in Coburg North, which effectively puts the Brunswick and Coburg shopping strips out of reach for people in wheelchairs or mobility devices and often also for parents with children in prams.

The protest blocked several trams outside the Brunswick Town Hall shortly before 10am on Thursday.

Christian Astourian, one of the leaders of the Brunswick action, called on the Victorian Government to urgently roll out accessible tram stops along the #19 tram route up Sydney Road.

“Our community and public transport system should be accessible to everyone, yet right now people like me who use a wheelchair or other mobility devices are effectively locked out of getting around Sydney Road by public transport,” he said.

“It is not good enough that there are no accessible tram stops between Brunswick Road and Bakers Road, Stops 19 and 40.

“The Victorian Government has a responsibility to allow every member of our community to get to where they need to. They need to live up to this responsibility with urgent action.”

The Disability Resources Centre is campaigning for better infrastructure, along with a fully staffed, properly trained and supportive system.

Under the federal Standards for Accessible Transport plan, all trams and trains and associated infrastructure must be fully accessible by 2032. All Victorian tram stops are meant to be fully accessible by the end of this year.

But the DRC says there is no way the Victorian and federal governments will meet their own deadlines if accessible tram stops continue to be rolled at the current slow rate.

An investigation by the Victorian Auditor-General in late-2020 found both of these deadlines are unlikely to be met. At that stage, just 27% of tram stops and 38% of trams were fully accessible.

Thursday morning’s rally was told that at the current rate of progress, Melbourne’s tram network will not be fully accessible until 2066 – 44 years from now.

Ally Scott, head of campaigns at the DRC, said people with disabilities were sick of waiting for improvements.

“Since 1981 people with disabilities in Victoria have been campaigning for public transport they can use,” she said.

“Many rely on public transport to access education, jobs, community and life. But over 40 years later very little has changed.”

“We have joined forces today with the Transport for All Coalition to highlight the ongoing discrimination so many people face in our public transport system and demand urgent action from the Victorian government in the lead up to the state election.”

State MP for Brunswick, Tim Read, said he was regularly contacted by constituents asking him about when accessible tram stops would be introduced. He most recently raised the issue in Parliament in October.

“This is something that has been talked about for a very long time, for decades, and there’s been no progress,” he said.

“Accessible tram stops cost just a tiny fraction of the cost of level crossings and connect our population with the public transport network and they just need to get on and do it. Obviously, the government can’t do it all at once but one way would be to start initially at intervals like every third stop so people with disability can get benefit of moving around the city and around the tram network.”

Cr Conlan, a member of the Victorian Greens, said: “It’s appalling that Sydney Road is still effectively inaccessible to people with disabilities. The state government needs to get serious about making our public transport system accessible for all now.”

Other protests Thursday were held at Bairnsdale, Clifton Hill, Prahran and Warrnambool.

The state government expects accessibility to improve when 100 Next Generation trams begin operating from 2025. Along with 100 low-floor E-Class trams already in service, they will allow the retirement of older high-floor trams.

The Department of Transport said up to 75 per cent of trams running on the Route 19 from North Coburg to Flinders Street along Sydney Road are low-floor, depending on the time of day and fleet availability. Similarly the majority of trams on Route 6 between Moreland and Glen Iris which operates via Lygon Street are low-floor vehicles.

Upgrades to along Melville Road last year mean the new E-Class trams can also operate on Route 58.

“There’s always more that can be done, and we are actively working with operators and the community to make sure Victoria’s public transport is accessible to everyone,” a department spokesperson said.

“We will continue to monitor and consider future improvements along Sydney Road and Lygon Street, and we encourage anyone to bring any accessibility issues on our network to our attention.”

This story has been updated with additional comments from Tim Read and the Department of Transport.