“Step-free” doesn’t mean DDA-compliant

All of Melbourne’s suburban railway stations have step-free access to the platforms.

Except one: Heyington. To get to either platform involves steps.

Heyington is set into the side of a hill. From the street you go down some steps to the citybound (“up”) platform. Or if you want the outbound (“down”) platform, that’s down some steps, across a walkway, and then down some more steps. (The outbound platform is accessible directly from the adjacent St Kevins College, but that appears to be a private entrance.)

Heyington Station

Heyington Station

Other rail networks

So, every Melbourne station except one has step-free access.

That’s a long way ahead of many of the bigger old rail systems around the world.

In Sydney, by my count, 109 out of 178 (61%) are accessible (following huge investment in lifts), though the proportion across New South Wales as a whole is around half.

In London, it’s around a quarter of Underground stations and about half the Overground stations. It’s also pretty dire in Paris.

Earls Court station, London Underground

It’s not that hard to see how this happened. Much of Sydney is very hilly, so many stations hug the side of hills (like Heyington does), which would have made it quite difficult/expensive to provide ramps, back in the days when accessibility for wheelchairs or prams wasn’t seen as a concern.

(For similar reasons, Sydney never had very many level crossings. Sure, they’ve done a good job at getting rid of theirs, but they never had that many to start with. Melbourne in comparison is fairly flat, so we ended up with lots of level crossings.)

On old underground systems like London and Paris, some of the stations were built before lift/elevator technology had really matured, and it would have been expensive, and not seen as a priority. Providing ramps to station platforms deep underground would have cost a fortune, so to this day they’re very reliant on steps. Some cities are spending up big on retro-fitting lifts.

How did Melbourne end up with ramps almost everywhere? There must have been a policy in place, because stations going back well over a hundred years have them — the MATHS stations rebuilt in the 1910s are a good example, but you can also find photos of Flinders Street Station from the 1890s with ramps.

Whatever the reasons for the policy, it showed foresight.

Ramps at Sandown Park station

DDA compliance doesn’t just mean ramps

So, all Melbourne stations except Heyington are step-free. But this doesn’t make them compliant with the latest legislated standards.

The Disability Discrimination Act, and the subsection, the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport are far more specific than just “no steps”. Melbourne’s station ramps, particularly the older ones, are too steep for some people in a hand-operated wheelchair to use, and can cause problems for people with other mobility difficulties.

Here’s a summary of the relevant DDA standard (AS 1428.1):

Summary of DDA building standards

So basically you need ramps to be no steeper than 1:14, and at that gradient, you need a landing every 9 metres.

DDA probably isn’t perfect. But it mandates a pretty good standard, which if followed, makes more public spaces accessible to most people, not just the able-bodied.

Some upgrades coming

The current state of many of the stations means, even though there are no steps, it’s difficult for some people to use them.

In the past, some stations have been proposed for upgrades; some have happened, some have faced fierce resistance.

Fortunately, the level crossing removal program is resulting in many stations being rebuilt to modern standards. This is a ramp down to the platforms at Bentleigh station — note the gentle gradient, and landing midway along.

Bentleigh station ramp

Accessibility information

If you have specific mobility needs and you’re looking to travel — for instance, you might be capable of using modern DDA-compliant ramps, but not the older steeper ones — there’s not very much official information online.

The rail network map simply says that only Heyington lacks step-free access.

The detailed station information on the PTV web site doesn’t distinguish between a station with fully-DDA-compliant ramps and lifts, and one with steep ramps.

In fact it cheerfully notes stations that have steps, without telling you what this means:

  • Heyington has steps which means you can’t access the platforms any other way.
  • Box Hill and Ormond are also listed as having steps… but platforms are accessible via lifts and/or ramps.

It mentions if station parking, phones and toilets are accessible, but again, doesn’t clarify what this means. Accessible from where? Caulfield’s new accessible toilets are on platforms 2/3, reached from the street via two steep ramps.

Worse, it claims Heyington’s toilets and phone are accessible — I didn’t notice a telephone, and there are certainly no toilets available there.

PTV Journey Planner options

Planning journeys

The PTV Journey Planner can be told:

  • You can’t walk very far
  • You need services and/or stops with wheelchair access

(The Journey Planner seems to know which trams are accessible and which aren’t — eg 96 normally is, 57 normally isn’t. Just don’t bother trying to look at the tram timetables online, which don’t show it.)

But you can’t specify that you need:

  • Unassisted/DDA-compliant wheelchair access
  • Visual displays on the platform (eg hearing difficulties) to confirm you’re boarding the right service
  • Tactile guidance paths (even though these are in the PTV database)

(I’m not trying to catalogue every specific need people might have, just show some examples.)

Google Transit doesn’t have any options other than being able to preference less walking, even though the GTFS data specification includes accessibility information.

Ultimately if you need more information than is available online, the only thing I can suggest is contacting PTV and Metro for that information… if they have it.

Perhaps we should be thankful that most of the train system is accessible, at least with assistance.

Most buses are compliant. Trams… that’s another story altogether.

Clearly a lot more is needed to improve the transport system as a whole to achieve full DDA-compliance.

* * *

Further reading:

Thanks to Karen for inspiring this blog post via discussion of her mother’s mobility needs.

Pics: The new shiny West Footscray station

I’m running a bit behind in my blogging due to general business.

Here are some pictures from the brand new shiny West Footscray station a few weeks ago.

The platforms seem uncluttered, and there are Passenger Information Displays (PIDs) and a clock, which are becoming the standard now for new stations:

West Footscray station, platform 2

There’s a pretty big car park, in part to make up for the parking lost at Footscray. You can also clearly see the space for the new Regional Rail Link lines which are being added:

West Footscray station, platform 2

There are bike cages as well as car parking, as well as a bike path/ramp from the concourse to the streets on either side. The main concourse/bridge over the tracks is pretty imposing, very visible from the surrounding areas.

West Footscray station

Chris Hale from Melbourne Uni presented at the PTUA Annual General Meeting recently. He remarked that Roxburgh Park station looks like a jail.

Although I wouldn’t say it’s beautiful, happily the same can’t be said for West Footscray. At the very least, it’s more colourful, with blocks of green, and areas of wood on the ceiling (apparently to help the acoustics and reduce noise).

West Footscray station, concourse

West Footscray station, concourse

Looking east towards Footscray (central) through a tiny hole in the concourse wall, you can see the amount of development that’s going on there:

West Footscray station, looking east

Minister Mulder’s decision to provide ramps as well as steps and lifts means there’s plenty of choice for getting between the concourse and the platforms. At least if the lifts break down, now there’s an accessible alternative. As you can see from the hoarding, despite having been officially opened, the work wasn’t quite complete when I went through:

West Footscray station, platform 1

All in all, not half bad for what will become a busy station as urban renewal takes hold in the area.

It’s not staffed, apart from PSOs. I would hope and assume that space was set aside for future staff facilities and toilets should they ever be needed — it appears so from the amount of closed-off space on the bridge.

One local I know seems to like it. As an occasional user of the old West Footscray station, I’d say it’s an improvement.

Hopefully future stations will continue to look less like jails and more like a welcoming spot to catch a train.

Update 6/12/2013: I’m told one other feature of the new West Footscray is that it has solar PV panels on the roof; enough for all the station’s power needs.

PSOs to check tickets, but won’t have #Myki readers? That won’t work.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay, talking about deployment of Protective Service Officers on stations:

“From time to time they will check tickets. When these PSOs see a group of young people that they believe are up to no good on a railway station a really helpful tool is to say, ‘Show me your ticket’. If they haven’t got a ticket, off they go,” he said.

He denied they would be equipped with Myki card readers.

— Herald Sun online — Footscray station next stop for PSOs

The problem here is that without Myki readers, there is no way that the PSOs can tell if a Myki card is valid. They can’t tell if it has any credit loaded on it, they can’t tell if it has been touched-on.

PSOs at Flinders Street

PSOs having the ability to do ticket checks does make sense. Chief Commissioner Lay is right; it is a useful tool to help ensure people on a railway station are actually there to catch a train. And given officers will eventually patrol quiet stations with little or no crime, they might as well check tickets.

But a ticket check where you can’t tell if someone is fare-evading or not is not much of a ticket check.

And the requirement for being on a station is not just “a ticket” but “a valid ticket”.

Along with the statistics showing that around half of all assaults on stations occur before 6pm when PSOs won’t be on duty, it’s just another one of these things which suggests to me the PSOs plan has not been properly thought through.

Trains along freeways aren’t necessarily a good idea

From time to time people suggest that train lines should be built in the middle of all new freeways.

The problem with building train lines along freeways is you’d be in danger of them all ending up like Jacana or Kannanook.

Jacana Station

Because freeways take up so much space, make so much noise, and generate so much pollution, any stations are likely to be a long way from houses, shops, or other places people can get to on foot, which is a necessity for making public transport work well.

If there’s nowhere to walk to from the station, you end up with people having to drive to the station (which means it’s a source for trips, but never a destination, and severely limits passenger numbers, since carparks fill rapidly), or you have to have very high quality feeder bus services (which can be done, but it’s not something often done very well in Melbourne, and it’s not letting the railway live up to its full potential).

Warnbro station, Perth
(Warnbro station in Perth — from Nearmap.com)

The same debate happens elsewhere, and with light rail:

“Light rail works best when people are getting on and off – there have to be destinations along the route”

— Urban Taskforce chief executive Aaron Gadiel, quoted in the Inner West Courier (Sydney)

It’s not just a question of distance, it’s also the environs: a station in the middle of lanes and lanes of traffic (and its noise) and huge carparks, reached via long pedestrian overpasses is just not a nice place to be.

It’s so much more pleasant if the station is integrated into the streetscape, with lots of other people around for passive protection, and attractions close by — in other words, stations in the middle of activity centres, as in most suburbs of Melbourne, with businesses and residents nearby.

Toorak Road, South Yarra

The buzzword for what’s needed is Transit-oriented development.

Which is not to say that railway lines shouldn’t be considered along some freeways. Perth has used it to rapidly and cost-effectively expand its railway network.

And in Melbourne a link from Victoria Park along the Eastern Freeway (which was specifically designed to cater for a rail line in the middle) to a Park+Ride/Bus station at Bulleen (eg the cheapest easiest bit of the long-proposed Doncaster rail line), with a nice bus interchange would allow all the freeway buses to be redeployed to provide frequent connecting services into the station, instead of being stuck in traffic on Hoddle Street and Victoria Parade.

But trains along freeways shouldn’t generally be the preference, if there are viable alternatives. There are usually better places to build them.