Sydney Road was blocked on June 17 by campaigners calling for accessible tram stops before any more level crossing removal works on the Upfield line. The protest was organised by Sydney Road Accessible Tram Stops.
Led by campaign organiser Christian Astourian, a Brunswick resident and disability rights advocate, and supported by a wide range of organisations and individuals, the crowd consisted of parents with prams and strollers, people with mobility issues, the blind and a contingent of wheelchair users.
“I’ve had my disability for 50 years and have never been able to get on a tram,” one protester in a wheelchair said.
The crowd heard from Christian, Ally Scott, a campaigner from the Disability Resources Centre and Bramble Heinrich-McPartlan, chair of Merri-bek Disability Reference Group and ambulant wheelchair user, before taking to the streets.
“Accessible tram stops is not just a matter of convenience, but also a matter of dignity, basic human rights and inclusion,” Astourian told the rally.
“People with disabilities, or anyone who faces mobility issues … have been excluded from the public transport system, forcing them to rely on expensive or unreliable alternatives.
“It doesn’t take all that much work, when we do things right from the start, to make things more accessible. [It’s] a tiny extra cost to make tram doors that slide into a cavity so there’s no gap.
“Safer crossings and stops: it doesn’t have to be this hard. The lack of consultation has caused this issue and the [government’s] lack of compassion has forced our hand.”
In two years time, the government will shut the Upfield train line for between 18 months and two years to remove eight level crossings in Brunswick.
As Merri-bek councillor Sue Bolton told the crowd “when that happens Christian [Astourian] loses his ability to go to work or visit his elderly mother on the other side of the city”.
The rally called on the Labor to make Sydney Road accessible to all between now and the start of the level-crossing removals. Organisers promised more protests and direct action if this did not happen.
“Polite advocacy hasn’t won us accessible tram stops because [politicians] don’t think there are any votes in the issue,” Bolton said.
One estimate is that it would cost about $75 million to install accessible tram stops on Royal Parade and Sydney Road between Parkville and North Coburg, a 5-kilometre stretch with only one accessible tram stop. That is about 1/20th of the estimated $1.5 billion being spent on removing the Brunswick level crossing.
Monica Harte, a Merri-bek councillor and former president of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, described how disability rights activists had blockaded the Upfield train line in the early 1990s to stop it from being shut down.
“We won that campaign, that campaign was also backed by the Brunswick council,” Harte said.
Bolton said “we will win this”, adding that the rally is just the beginning. “Two years is sufficient time to build accessible tram stops. If the government dares to shut the train line without having accessible tram stops already installed, we will be taking direct action.”