Can you please help me off?

The article below was first published in the July edition of Planning News. Planning Institute Australia, Victorian Division‘s monthly magazine. Thoughts expressed are my own.

‘Can you please help me off?’ I’ve lost count of the times I’ve asked this question when travelling on Melbourne’s trams, and thankfully for me, 9 times out of 10, someone says ‘yes’.

But I’m one of the lucky. My wheels aren’t my own, they’re my baby’s, and in a pinch I can travel without them. As well as a mum to little Charlie, I’m a Councillor on Moreland City Council and their delegate on the Metropolitian Transport Forum. Earlier this year I sat through a whizbang presentation about how Public Transport Victoria was going to drive Melbourne’s public transport network into the future. 40 minutes and not one mention of accessibility.  So it was with the 1 in 5 people in Australia with a disability in my mind, that I questioned Public Transport Victoria’s new CEO.  I asked what the plan was to improve the accessibility of Melbourne’s public transport network?

Melbourne’s Accessible Public Transport Action Plan 2006-12  should be wrapping up this year. The APTAP outlined some ambitious targets, those in strategic planning might even say stretch goals. ,  For instance, 55% of boarding points (tram, train & bus stops to us ordinary folk) should be compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002. Any casual observer of our tram network can tell you that this particular target has not been achieved.

I don’t mean to malign PTV’s new CEO Ian Dobbs, he was but two weeks into the job when I asked that question. However, the answer I got was symptomatic of a broader problem. To me, there is a lack strategic focus on improving the accessibility of our public transport.

For many years I sat on Moreland City Council’s Disability Advisory Group (DAG). Before my pram adventures, the DAG gave me some insight into what it would mean to have a disability in Melbourne. Some stories were positive – the young man in the wheelchair whose bus company, running a public route, timetabled the accessible buses around his work schedule – or the person with vision impairment who would get on the tram and recognised by the driver, would be assisted in their travel . But many were not. The most common tale was the overwhelming number of people with disabilities that didn’t, and couldn’t, use our public transport.

The most important thing that the DAG taught me was the best and most effective way to increase accessibility of anything is to simply involve those that you’re try to provide access to. I remember a lively two  hour conversation about public toilets. This discussion ranged from whether handrails could be installed on both sides of the toilet, (because what if a person has limited use of one arm and that is the side with the rail?), to technical conversations about model numbers and suppliers. It was an eye opener! I had believed that it was just a matter of getting the assurances of the manufacturer that the model met the DDA requirements Obviously, there is much more to the issue.

My experience with this issue is broad, but also limited. My wheels are temporary. When I try to get off a low floor tram at the accessible door, but have difficulties, because the stop’s too short/narrow/non-existent, I console myself with the knowledge this is not forever.

Part of the issue is money . As a councillor at an inner metro council I can relate, there are millions of demands on council funding and not all requests (however worthy) will be met. However, the right of access is an issue of fundamental human right. And when billions get poured into our road network each year, the current level of inaccessibility of our public transport is inexcusable.

And for anyone who has never considered the issue, think about public toilets, public transport, public footpaths and ask have you consulted anyone with a disability?

A great place to read the stories from people with all abilities on Melbourne’s transport network is All Aboard.

Handy aspirations

So here I was minding my own business when, BAM, out of nowhere (okay really out of my facebook feed) I saw this.

Which led me this:

A TV unit becomes … a play kitchen

A TV unit becomes … a play kitchen

I want to be more handy…

The next steps (and red briefcases)

So I’m thinking that this blogging gig will be harder than I thought. In the past two weeks I have started, not one, not two but three separate blog posts! And they’ve all ended up in the scrap heap. I’ve decided to just go with it, just blog and be free (or something like that!).

To begin. My knee is still niggling, so I’ve yet to get back into training. These cold Melbourne mornings are not helping my motivation one iota. When it’s 3 degrees when I get up, there is no way I want to deliberately go outside in workout clothes! And added to all this is the craziness that is Council Meeting week, with a public holiday thrown in for good measure.

By way of introduction in 2004 I was elected, and 2008 re-elected, to represent the South Ward on Moreland City Council. The South Ward includes the suburbs of Brunswick, Brunswick East and Brunswick West. And today is the monthly Council Meeting.

Cr Stella Kariofyllidis and I attach the rainbow flag to the Coburg Civic Centre for IDAHO

Cr Stella Kariofyllidis, left, and I attach the rainbow flag to the Coburg Civic Centre for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

On the agenda this month we’ve got the usual assortment of financial statements, tenders, policies, land use, capital projects, community grants and general updates – but it June is a big month and all this has come to a whopping 1000 pages to be read, digested and understood in less than a week. Let me tell you it was a tough ask this month, but I got through it, just.

I’m glad I did. There are some really interesting and important reports buried at the bottom of those ‘red briefcases’. I’ll save you the trouble of digging through them and give you:

Alice’s highlights

  1. Brunswick built form controls and permanent height controls – request to prepare amendment to the planning scheme.
  2. Brunswick Baths opening will be pushed back to Feb 2013 mostly due to unexpected levels of soil contamination
  3. 3000 of the new Parking Overstay Detection Systems (PODS) are now live
  4. Youth Facility tender has come back to be awarded- This is a project very dear to my heart and when I have further non-confidential info I will share
  5. The Draft Moreland Public Toilet Strategy will be released
  6. Awarding of the contract for structural works to the Brunswick Library and Townhall
  7. Adoption of the Principal Pedestrian Network, allowing for prioritisation of capital works expenditure
  8. Seeding and Project grants in our annual Community Grants Program will be funded
  9. Implementation reports on a wide range of environmental projects – too many to pull out the highlights!
  10. Oh – Moreland is now carbon neutral!

And that’s just to name a few!

So that’s what I’ll be spending my Wednesday night doing, how about you?

Hello!

So, I’ve had grand plans for this blog. ‘I’m going to write about this on my blog tonight’ I’ve proclaimed. ‘It will be inspiring/informative/boring/cathartic/all of the above’ I’ve said.

Well now I’m here and I feel, in equal parts, lost for words and so full of them I don’t know where to start.

Charlie and Alice

Me and Charlie. When my little boy was much littler!

I’m not really going to introduce myself – that’s all over in the about section – I think I’ll just jump straight in.

One of my amazing ideas for this blog (see above) is to document my journey from the unfit still have baby weight two years on self to the so fit and looking in good in lyrca (let me dream people!) self, running the 5km in Run Melbourne this July.

Well that all went a bit pear shaped when I knelt down to read Charlie a bed time story and whacked my knee so hard I damaged tendons in my knee! But my awesome physio is fixing me – but I’ve been told, quite strictly, no training till I have no pain.

So with my frozen peas in hand, I wait on the couch.