EMBARQ Director shares vision for accessible transport at UN DESA Forum
1 billion of the world’s population has a disability. 80% of these people live in developing countries, many subsisting below the poverty line. These are the people who most need accessible, affordable, public transport. Yet, disability and accessible transport have been notably absent from development agendas due, in part, to the lack of awareness and understanding of disability as a development issue. As the UN works to define the post-2015 development agenda, it is important that it address disability and accessible transport for all.
On July 20th, EMBARQ Director Holger Dalkmann shared a vision for accessible transport for all at the UN DESA Forum: Dialogues on the post-2015 Development Framework and Disability.
The current situation
When the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established eleven years ago, they set ambitious but achievable benchmarks, focused on reducing poverty, hunger and disease. But they failed to address transportation, a critical component of sustainable development. Disability was also notably absent from the conversation.
During the Rio+20 summit last year, the UN's member states began a conversation to develop the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So far, they have addressed public transport, but have still failed to include disability. The invisibility of disability in the MDGs and opening conversation about the SDGs was detrimental to the realization of internationally agreed upon development goals. By excluding persons with disabilities and their communities, a critical population was ignored.
The current MDGs expire in 2015. As the UN Secretary General leads efforts to build a post-2015 Development Framework, the conversation about the role of transportation and accessibility in sustainable development has intensified. The UN DESA Forum at the United Nations headquarters in New York July 19-20, 2013 brought together multiple stakeholders to discuss a way forward for inclusion of disability in the development agenda.
An important component to addressing the needs of the disabled is ensuring that they have access to public transport. Holger Dalkmann shared EMBARQ’s vision in a panel discussion during the forum to address accessibility in transport – why it is important, and what needs to be done to make a system accessible.
In the past ten years, there have been a few global efforts to promote accessibility through development aid. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) package to Vietnam for 2004-2008 included specific requirements and standards for accessibility. Similarly, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted in December of 2006 and entered into force in 2008, claims “the right to movement” as a human right, and explicitly details the rights of the disabled population to accessibility and mobility. But it is not clear how much either of these efforts have significantly resulted in increased accessibility. The need for concrete solutions and decisive action will only grow in importance given the aging populations of many countries, both developed and developing.
Accessibility is holistic
Accessibility for disabled and elderly people is not only about physical access to vehicles and systems. In order for a system to be accessible, it must provide information in forms that are useable by everyone, and training for transport staff to understand the needs of disabled and elderly people. Streets, parks, and other urban areas must be designed in a way that enables people to move about safely and confidently.
Accessibility also must be accounted for at every stage of a pedestrian’s journey. A wheel-chair accessible bus does no good if a disabled person can’t make it to the bus stop. The transport chain must be accessible at all points, for an individual can only make the journey if every link in the chain, from their door to their destination, is reliable, accessible, and affordable.
The process itself must be inclusive
The process itself of designing accessible systems must be inclusive- inclusive of disabled people in consultations, deferential to all strata of society, and involve strong partnerships with a variety of stakeholders. EMBARQ centers are working to improve accessibility, utilizing their network of partners to make sure the systems address the needs of their users.
Just a few years ago, Istanbul, Turkey was plagued by heavy traffic. With only two bridges over the Bosphorus, it was difficult to move through the city. Now, thanks to the efforts of EMBARQ Turkey, Istanbul runs one of the world’s fastest and most popular BRTs. EMBARQ Turkey continues to work to improve the accessibility to this system, so that all of Istanbul’s residents, whether they are disabled or not, can move freely through their city.
One example of a truly accessible system is in Curitiba, Brazil. There, accessibility is being addressed at all points in the transport chain, from bus entrances to station access, to feeder systems. Now, 81% of all bus stops in Curitiba have raised platforms with ramps or lifts for wheelchair users, and the city has a goal of reaching 100% by 2014. Passengers board at floor level via bridge plates that lower automatically as buses reach the stop, which not only helps those in wheelchairs, but those who might have difficulty stepping up to a higher bus floor. Curitiba also has a high percentage of accessible feeder services (the parts of the transport chain that link individual’s homes with the backbone of Curitiba’s public transit, bus rapid transit). As a result of these efforts, disabled people make some 21,000 trips daily using Curitiba’s public transport, 1,000 of which are made by wheelchair users.
When you make a system available to disabled people, you make it more accessible for everyone: for children, the elderly, and all members of society. It becomes truly accessible and inclusive – that’s what public transport should be all about.