Thursday, October 11, 2007

Standing Committe on Planning and Environment. Tuesday 7th August 2007. Chairman Mr M Gentleman

Reference: ACTION buses and the sustainable transport plan.

This committee hearing was very interesting to me even though it discussed the public transport division of buses in the ACT which is not an area that directly has any impact on my life. The two lobbying points that are discussed in this committee hearing are the issue of disabled people not having enough access to public transport and the unfair discrimination of some of these people by the employees of the ACTION buses organisation. The other main discussion point was that young people are shown almost no significance in their lifestyle habits and their employment schedules such as part time or casual work and are not assisted in any way by the ACT public transport system.
I found this committee hearing very interesting, firstly because I am a young person who is employed in casual work and whose shift times are very different from the 9-5 time quota occupied by most people and also because I have several disabled people in my extended family including one cousin who has cerebral palsy, which was discussed throughout the committee hearing.

The Chair opened the public hearing at 1pm and shortly after Dr Helen Watchirs, the Human Rights and Discrimination Commissioner, Human Rights Commission, made her opening comments and then briefly went through her submission.

In her submission, Dr Watchirs talks about how ACTION buses do include wheelchair-accessible buses yet the main issue is that there are not enough routes that these buses go on and that these buses come very infrequently which means a major inconvenience for disabled people, especially if they need to go to work or get around to visit friends or run errands. Dr Watchirs also talks about how people with disabilities could have to wear a pass like a dog tag around their neck to identify their disability which Dr Watchirs claims impairs the dignity of people with disabilities.

Fares are also discussed in this committee hearing. Dr Watchirs discusses how people with a disability who have a carer that travels with them are forced to pay two fares, one for them and one for their carer, yet is out of their control that they need this carer thus they are at a disadvantage of having to pay two fares instead of one. Dr Watchirs would like to see a review on concession fares for this kind of ACTION bus travel for disabled people.

The other issue that was discussed in regards to disabled people was that if they are using the ACTION buses, it has been mentioned anecdotally that bus drivers are sometimes rude or annoyed when they have to assist disable people. Dr Watchirs and the Vice President of the committee hearing, Mr Seselja, would like to see reform to this and put in place a standard of compliance when communicating with disabled people.

This meeting was adjourned from 1:33pm to 3:21pm.

After this meeting was opened by the Chair, Mr Siddhartha Chakrabarti, Policy and Communications Officer, Youth Coalition of the ACT, started his submission and opening statements on behalf of the young people in ACT.

The main issue that was discussed in this section of the committee hearing was frequency and the issue that if buses frequented routes more often then young people would use the ACTION bus service a lot more. The issue with young people from quantitative and qualitative research was that because of their part time and casual employment they needed to catch buses out of peak times when they would sometimes have to wait for buses anywhere between 1 and 3 hours. This infrequency caused the youths to not use the bus services as often as they would if the buses ran more frequently. There was also an issue of safety as waiting at interchanges or bus stops especially at night by themselves was quite daunting, yet this was often the time that the young people’s work shifts would finish.

Youths also commented on the fact that during the day the routes that they would take at peak times, took sometimes up to 45 minutes longer during off peak times. Some young people can’t afford to buy a car and so with the lack of adequate transport facilities they are forced either into unemployment or to not participate in social activities with their friends because they can not get to certain places or facilities to visit them and this can sometimes lead to social outcast which has many more negative effects that spiral down from this.

All in all, I found this committee hearing very interesting and the issues that were raised I thought were very worthwhile and they needed to be addressed and changes need to be implemented in regards to these issues.

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