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HRC: Accessible Public Land Transport Inquiry

HRC: Accessible Public Land Transport Inquiry

Notes for the public announcement of An Inquiry into Accessible Public Land Transport by the Human Rights Commission

Rosslyn Noonan Chief Commissioner 1pm, Monday 15 December 2003 Dunedin Public Library

Kia ora tatou and welcome.

Today marks the public announcement of the Human Rights Commission's decision to hold an Inquiry into accessible public land transport. A number of individuals, groups and organisations have contributed to this decision. I particularly acknowledge representatives of the DPA and other disability groups and those representing the land transport sector and the major transport companies.

I would also like to acknowledge the Minister for Disability Issues, the Honourable Ruth Dyson and the Minister for Transport, the Honourable Paul Swain for their cooperation and support.

This Inquiry is the first to be conducted by the Commission under our new legislation. The Inquiry manager is Bruce Coleman and, ably supported by Sheryn Duell, he has ensured that the Commission went through a very rigorous process to determine terms of reference and Inquiry procedures. And for her tireless work to improve the lives of people with disabilities in New Zealand I would like to acknowledge my colleague and fellow Commissioner Robyn Hunt, who is here today and who is one of the two Commissioners who will be joining me at the public hearings.

The road to the Inquiry began here in Dunedin in April 2002 when the DPA and other disability groups held a forum to discuss issues for the transport-disadvantaged. Following that forum, the Transport Working Party (TWP) was formed to further advance the issues raised.

In October 2002 the TWP invited the Human Rights Commission to host a further transport forum in Dunedin. Reports from that meeting led the Commission to explore the possibility of conducting an Inquiry into accessible public transport.

At the same time similar issues were being raised in other parts of the country. In Wellington, as in other communities, there were concerns expressed about premises, infrastructure, conveyances, service information and the role of local Government in the provision of accessible public land transport.

For both Otago and Wellington, and in fact for all regions, one thing was clear - these concerns required the involvement of the community as a whole and could not simply be directed toward individual transport operators or regional councils to address.

Over the last five years, the Commission has received complaints, inquiries and representations that suggested some elements of the public transport system may not be accessible to people with disabilities. The Commission has been able to resolve some of these issues using the complaints processes available under the Human Rights Act. However many of the issues brought to the Commission clearly required a more systemic approach. After research and consultation it was clear that conducting an Inquiry, using two regions as case studies, would provide the best platform to thoroughly examine the issues.

The Inquiry will look at all aspects of the provision of public land transport and the need for changes to legislation, regulations, policies and procedures and funding arrangements.

Although the Inquiry will seek input and submissions from throughout the country, the Wellington and Otago regions will be used as case studies to explore in greater depth the issues for public land transport users and potential users, as well as organisational responsibilities and responses to the issues and the role that particular regional circumstances play.

The Inquiry will be split into three phases. As part of the first phase consultation, research and further identification of the issues will continue into the new year. The second phase will see public hearings start in April. While the third phase will culminate with the completion of the final Inquiry report later next year.

For many of us access to public transport and ease of mobility can too easily be taken for granted. But for many people with disabilities public land transport is often their only means of transport. The lack of an accessible public land transport system can be a significant barrier to full participation in employment, education, recreation, community activities and other activities.

The preparatory work we've done has helped build a picture of the barriers that people might encounter when trying to use public transport. Raising the awareness of these barriers among the wider community is an important objective of this Inquiry. Amongst the issues raised consider the following: * Most cities run phone information services for bus services. Though the usefulness of these services is obvious, for the deaf and hearing impaired clear issues of access to the information present themselves; * Similarly ordering a taxi is not so straightforward for this community, where on-the-spot bookings can generally be made only over the phone; * For those who rely on wheelchairs, guide dogs or other aids a key issue is the distance and the nature of terrain between home and public transport stations and stops. * For the blind and visually impaired identifying the public transport service you wish to use can pose a number of problems as can knowing when you've reached your destination. This can be compounded by the design of buses and trains - for instance not having the next stop announced on board. It is clear that there will be many issues to consider as part of the Inquiry. The solutions required will in some cases be complex I'm sure. However as we progress, the positive response to the Inquiry by many in the public transport sector has been heartening. I am pleased that both John Collins of the Bus and Coach Association and Nigel Piper of Stagecoach are here today.

The role of central Government will also feature in the Inquiry. Recent Government policy documents recognise inclusion, full participation in society, and the removal of barriers to participation as key policy objectives for people with disabilities. The Government has started to address some of the issues affecting the accessibility of public transport as part of its New Zealand Disability Strategy.

This Strategy recognises that in order to contribute to the objective of supporting quality living in the community for disabled people, the government will require all new scheduled public transport to be accessible, encourage the development of accessible routes to connect buildings, public spaces and transport systems and develop nationally consistent access to passenger services where there is no accessible public transport. In addition to the Disability Strategy there are other government policy documents that will be relevant to the Inquiry.

The Government, working alongside the Human Rights Commission and NGOs, has recently made a positive impact in the international arena. In June a New Zealand delegation, comprising Human Rights Commissioner Robyn Hunt and Government and NGO representatives, took a lead role in the development of a UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities.

The delegation played a major role in proposing a working group to develop text for the draft convention. New Zealand's leadership and progressive approach to disability issues was acknowledged by other delegations and non-governmental organisations.

The significance of this achievement should not be overlooked. Over the past fifty years a number of important international conventions have created the modern framework for ensuring fundamental human rights are realised as widely as possible. The eventual completion of a convention on the rights of people with disabilities represents an important pillar in this framework. The June meeting saw an important step toward that goal.

New Zealand has a valuable role to play at the International level but only if we are honest about the situation here. This Inquiry will contribute to the process of putting our own house in order.

Thank you.

ENDS

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