People with disabilities who have fought for better facilities at Skytrain stations and on trains yesterday rejoiced as the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) handed down a ruling in their favour.
People with disabilities celebrate victory yesterday in a court battle over equal access to public transport after the Supreme Administrative Court ordered the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to build lifts at all 23 BTS Skytrain stations. TAWATCHAI KHEMGUMNERD
The Supreme Administrative Court reversed a lower court’s ruling and ordered City Hall to install lifts at all 23 Skytrain stations, or BTS, within one year to help people with disabilities. Lifts are currently available at only five stations, including Mor Chit.
The ruling was hailed as a major victory, particularly after the Central Administrative Court in 2009 threw out the group’s petition, which demanded city officials add more lifts, following years of being inadequately served.
The lower court was aware of the Interior Ministry’s law on facilities for disabled people, which took effect in 1999, but it said it could not compel City Hall to comply because it had already approved contracts to build the Skytrain system without facilities for the disabled two years earlier.
However, a group of disabled people led by Suporntum Monkolsawadi said the ruling was based upon an unfair technicality, and insisted on the need for better access to transport. They appealed the verdict, and the Supreme Administrative Court accepted their appeal.
In yesterday’s ruling, the judge ordered Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to carry out three measures to facilitate disabled people within one year.
The BMA, which has hired Bangkok Mass Transit System Plc (BTS) to run Skytrain services, must install a sufficient number of elevators at all 23 stations, as stated in the Interior Ministry’s order on the welfare of people with disabilities.
All trains must also have one carriage which can easily accommodate people with disabilities.
The BMA must ensure there is enough space for people travelling in wheelchairs in these carriages, with a minimum aisle width of 120cm, handrails on doors and easily visible handicap signage.
“Today is a victory for disabled people handed to them by the SAC. It’s a symbol of the ‘people era’,” said Mr Suporntum, secretary-general of the Redemptorist Foundation for People with Disabilities (RFPD), which filed the case against four defendants, including City Hall.
The court yesterday dismissed the complaint against the chief of the city’s Public Works Department.
Mr Suporntum said the court’s ruling has proved that physically challenged people have the right to enjoy their lives like everyone else. He pointed out that everyone in society, including people with disabilities, must have “transport equality”.
Deputy governor Amorn Kitchawengkul explained that lifts had not been initially installed at all stations because there was no regulation on facilities for the disabled when the concession was signed in 1992.
Speaking about yesterday’s ruling, the deputy governor said the BMA has already approved 200 million baht to install four lifts at each station, or 72 lifts altogether.
He said installation of the new lifts at each station was scheduled to begin at the start of the month and completed by the end of the year. But the project has been delayed as property owners near the stations have opposed the plan to construct lifts in front of their property, worrying it would “affect the good feng shui” of their businesses.
Mr Amorn said provision of the 72 lifts was in line with the governor’s policy to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
Lifts have already been provided by the BMA at all stations along the extended routes; from On Nut to Bearing and from Saphan Taksin to Bang Wa.
He said lifts and other Skytrain system structures will eventually be handed over to the BMA once the concession finishes in 2029. Pichet Raktabutr, a RFPD member, said the appeal was based on the fair treatment provided by the state to all citizens, regardless of their disabilities.
Inaccessibility is not confined to the BTS system, but also on the subway, the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand, he added.
Only half the 60 exits at 18 subway stations have lifts, he said.
But these lifts are often locked, and travellers have to ask each time they want to use them and wait for a security guard to come and help them, he said.