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Public transport FAQ

Disability Disability Rights
Friday 14 December, 2012


Public transport FAQ

See also our transport page

Can discrimination complaints still be made about accessibility of public transport services now that Standards are in force?

Yes, but people seeking different or faster outcomes to those provided for in the Standards will not succeed.

The DDA states (in section 34) that actions that comply with a Disability Standard are protected from being unlawful under the general anti-discrimination provisions of the DDA.

The purpose of the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport is to provide a structure for planning and achievement over time of accessibility of all public transport services, instead of only access to particular services or locations in response to particular complaints. These standards were the result of extensive negotiations between governments, industry and disability community representatives. Governments and industry committed to major investment and upgrading programs to provide accessibility in return for protection from liability under the DDA so long as they complied with the timetable and measures contained in the Standards.

It is not possible for the Australian Human Rights Commission or the courts to re-open these processes and impose more demanding timetables or other requirements in response to complaints.

Complaints can still be lodged, but the Australian Human Rights Commission will terminate complaints where in relation to the issue raised by the complaint the transport provider is complying with the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport. (On any issues not addressed by the Standards, the general provisions of the DDA continue to apply and complaints can be made under these provisions.)

New vehicles and facilities brought into service since the commencement of these Standards in 2002 are required to comply from the outset. Apart from this, however, the compliance targets for many of the requirements of these Standards apply only from later complaince points, at the end of 2007, 2012, 2017 and 2022.

Clearly, transport providers will need to be planning and taking action prior to these dates to ensure that they are in a position to meet the compliance targets as they arise, but it is not unlawful for providers to take until each compliance point to meet these targets.

So, for example, discrimination complaints before 2007 that some of a transport provider's existing vehicles or stations are not physically accessible will not succeed.

People considering making complaints regarding public transport access should first refer to the provisions of the Standards to assist them in deciding whether these complaints are likely to succeed.

Can complaints still be made about inaccessible school buses?

Yes. The Standards do not apply to dedicated school bus services, so the complaince timetable and specifications in the Standards do not apply directly to these services. But complaints can still be made under the general discrimination provisions of the DDA (or the equivalent provisions of State and Territory laws) where a student with a disability experienecs detriment because of lack of accessible bus service. Relevant DDA provisions are section 23 regarding access to premises; section 24 regarding services; and where a bus is provided by the school itself, section 22 regarding education.

Can transport providers require a fare to be paid for a carer or assistant travelling with a person with a disability?

Yes. Paragraph 25.1 of the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport states that all passengers must be prepared to pay a fare. It follows that requiring a carer or assistant who is travelling to pay a fare is not an unlawful act.

This does not prevent transport providers from offering free or discount travel to accompanying persons where they chose to do so.

Can an airline require that a person with a disability travel with an assistant or companion?

Yes, but only where the person requires assistance which the airline cannot provide without unjustifiable hardship.

See the decision of the Commission in McLean v Airlines of Tasmania Pty Ltd .

Mr McLean has a severe mobility disability. He uses a wheelchair, and cannot transfer into or out of it without assistance. He complained that Airlines of Tasmania would not allow him to travel unaccompanied. Mr McLean, who had previously travelled unaccompanied on large domestic airlines, alleged that the airline had discriminated against him on the grounds of his disability. The airline presented evidence that their aircraft was very small with an aisle too narrow for a wheelchair, inappropriate emergency exits and equipment and, because it seated only 19 passengers, no flight attendant to assist Mr McLean in an mergency.

Mr McLean stated he was willing to risk being left behind in an emergency, but the Commission considered that human nature would not allow the crew or Mr McLean's fellow passengers to abandon him, and that they might be put at risk themselves in assisting him. Hence in an emergency requiring evacuation his unaccompanied presence might endanger the crew, other passengers and even rescue workers. On balance the Commission considered that Mr McLean being permitted to travel unaccompanied would impose an unjustifiable hardship on the airline.

Does the DDA require accessible taxi schemes to be extended to people with agoraphobia?

No. A person who is denied eligibility for a program or benefit because he or she does not have a particular disability, rather than because of the disability he or she does have, has not been discriminated against unlawfully under the DDA. The DDA's "special measures" provision, section 45, also protects the ability of governments or other organisations to implement targeted programs reasonably intended to benefit people with a particular range of disabilities.

Do the Accessible Public Transport Standards apply to community transport?

The Accessible Public Transport Standards state that a public transport service includes "community transport conveyances that are funded or subsidised by charity or public money and that offer services to the public". The standards do not provide a definition of the "public". However, the fact that a service has eligibility requirements (such as having a disability) would not necessarily take it outside of the scope of services to the public - since accessible taxi services also have eligibility requirements but are clearly covered by the standards. Services available only to members of a particular association or residents of a particular facility would be outside the scope of "public" transport (although still be within the more general provisions of the DDA regarding provision of services) but services available to older people or people with disabilities in a particular area would be within the scope of the standards in our view. In any event, it should be noted that any community transport services not covered by the transport standards remain covered by the general antidiscrimination provisions of the DDA.

Do the Accessible Public Transport Standards apply to club courtesy buses?

If the bus provides services only to members, or to members and their guests, then the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport - which, where they apply, require all new vehicles to be accessible - would not apply - since these Standards apply only to public transport services rather than to services restricted to the members of a club .

However, the more general anti-discrimination provisions both of the Disability Discrimination Act and of State and Territory discrimination laws would still apply to such a service.

These provisions are less specific than those of the Disability Standards . However, if a person experiences detriment through not being able to board the buses provided to other patrons then a complaint would be possible.

Examples might be if a member or guest were required to wait for longer than other patrons before accessible transport arrived; or being unable to travel with others in their party. This is not to say that unlawful discrimination would necessarily be found - only that there would be potential liability , which should be considered by clubs in considering the purchase of such vehicles .

Does a new transport service provided with existing vehicles have to be fully accessible from the start?


The provision requiring full and immediate compliance (beyond the general requirement of the DSAPT for staged compliance) applies to new conveyances, infrastructure and premises from 2002 on, rather than to services newly introduced with existing conveyances etc.

The relevant clause is as follows.

32.1        Effect and application of these Standards
These Standards apply, on and from the date they come into effect under section 31 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, to:
(a)    public transport services provided with:
(i)    newly constructed premises or infrastructure; or
(ii)    conveyances entering service after these Standards come into effect; or
(iii)    premises, infrastructure or conveyances that have undergone substantial refurbishment or alteration; or
(iv)    additional or replacement equipment in premises and infrastructure or on conveyances; and
(b)    new or revised ancillary services that are provided as an adjunct to the public transport operation; and
(c)    new or updated information provided to the public. .

What conciliated outcomes have there been on public transport complaints?

See the conciliated outcomes page for public transport complaints.