The Victorian Labor government will remove another eight level crossings along the Upfield train line by 2027, claiming to be improving safety and reducing congestion.
But critics say its “big build” is ignoring the needs of disabled users of public transport to chase votes.
Sue Bolton, Socialist Alliance candidate for Pascoe Vale and a Moreland Councillor told Green Left that the rate at which the Andrews government is building accessible tram stops “means it will take until the 2060s for them to be accessible”.
“The Victorian government is dragging its feet on making public transport accessible because people with disabilities are a minority of the population.”
Crossings at Albert Street, Albion Street, Brunswick Road, Dawson Street, Hope Street, Victoria Street and Union Street in Brunswick, and at Park Street in Parkville, will be replaced by sky rail with new stations built at Jewel, Anstey and Brunswick.
The cost to remove level crossings has not yet been revealed, however it is expected to be high.
Bolton said that based on the $542.4 million cost to remove crossings at Bell Street, Munro Street, Reynard Street and Moreland Road, combined with the new stations built at Coburg and Moreland, the overall cost is estimated to blow out to more than $1 billion.
Meanwhile, the Andrews government plans to build just six new accessible tram stops over 2022–23 — all of which are in Latrobe Street in the central business district.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 requires that all tram stops must comply with accessible public transport standards by December 31 and be fully compliant by December 2032.
A Victorian Auditor Generals’ Office report, released last November, said there is “no realistic prospect” that the government will be able to comply with the 2022 deadline. To do that, it would have to deliver 1215 accessible stops within 18 months “at a cost of $2 billion”.
The report said the Department of Transport is at risk of failing to comply and therefore exposes the state to legal action and financial penalties.
Bolton said that apart from “ignoring its own law”, the government is “turning its back on people living with disability” while chasing votes with its level-crossing removal projects.
“If you use a wheelchair, the only accessible tram stops on the Sydney Rd tram route, once you have left the CBD, are at Brunswick Road and at the end of the tram line, 7.9 kilometres later,” Bolton said.
“This is shameful. It shows Labor does not think it needs to provide accessible tram stops because people with disabilities make up just 17% of the population.
“However, people with prams, the elderly and those with temporary disabilities, such as broken or sprained ankles, also need tram stops to be accessible.
“Not everyone with a disability is entitled to free taxi vouchers.”
Socialist Alliance has long organised “Ride the Rail” protests and other campaigns on the Upfield line to highlight the lack of trains and the need to duplicate the track beyond Gowrie Station.
“Those who use the Upfield railway line are stuck with the lowest number of trains in Melbourne — only one every twenty minutes”, Bolton said.
“Money would be better spent duplicating the track, building accessible tram stops, making sure all train stations are accessible and getting ready to provide more train services on the Upfield line that can link to the new Metro Tunnel project.”