bus stops and disability standards for accessible public transport

Application of the Transport Standards to the construction and maintenance of bus stops

This is the text of a letter sent by Commissioner Graeme Innes on 2 June 2006. It is published here in response to wider interst in the issues raised:

I have been asked by a number of organisations to provide my views on this matter and intend to publish this response on the Commission's website for the information of others.

At this stage there has been no case law established on the application of the Transport Standards to bus stops so the comments below represent only my interpretation.

I would welcome feedback on the issues raised below and in particular I would encourage people using bus stops, and those responsible for their construction and maintenance, to inform me of their experiences and of any design solutions developed to address difficulties in implementing the Standards.

Comments should be sent to disabdis@humanrights.gov.au

Development of the draft Standards

Before looking at the specific issue of bus stops I would like to comment on the broader question of interpretation and application of the Transport Standards to transport systems.

In developing the Standards the drafting Committee, on which the Commission was represented, adopted a particular approach to its work.

First, the Committee aimed to develop Standards which clearly described what service providers must do in order to meet their existing responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act. The Standards had to be sufficiently clear to give operators the confidence that if they followed them they could not be subject to a successful complaint of discrimination.

Second, the Committee resolved that while the Standards needed to be clear they should not be so prescriptive as to eliminate innovation, or be so inflexible they could not adapt to particular local circumstances.

In order to allow for innovation and flexibility the Standards were formulated in a way that reflected the style of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) by providing a set of objectives or performance statements about conveyances, premises and infrastructure, and then referencing technical specifications as one means of achieving the level of performance required.

The Standards also provide for what is termed 'Equivalent access' which allows for alternative approaches to achieving the performance requirements in much the same way that the BCA allows for an 'Alternative solution'. The Standards make it clear, however, that an alternative approach in the form of Equivalent access must provide for equivalent amenity, comfort, convenience, dignity, price and safety when applied.

While Equivalent access might be achieved using alternative technologies or designs the Standards clearly state that direct assistance may be offered by a service provider or operator as a means of achieving Equivalent access in some circumstances. Direct assistance must also aim at providing equivalent amenity, comfort, convenience, dignity, and safety.

Third, rather than provide detailed design blueprints for each conveyance or building the Committee proposed that the Standards would be made up of a number of elements, again like the BCA, that would have to be pieced together as appropriate to deliver accessible conveyances, premises or infrastructure. This means that rather than being organised under the headings Trains, Buses, Airports etc the Standards would consist of a number of elements such as Access paths, Ramps, Lighting, and Surfaces etc.

Those responsible for transport services therefore would be required to determine which elements in the Standards were relevant to whatever conveyance, premise or infrastructure being built.

Whether this is the best approach or whether Standards should address transport modes more distinctly is one issue that might be considered in the review of the Transport Standards which is due after five years of their operation.

Fourth, and related to the previous point, the Committee was very conscious of the need to ensure the Standards clearly described how the different parts of the transport system (conveyances, premises and infrastructure) and the different elements of the system (such as doorways, ramps and circulation space) connected in a seamless way. The Committee was very conscious of the fact that failure to ensure a seamless transition between all the parts and elements of the transport system would result in inaccessible services and continuing discrimination.

In order to achieve this seamless connectedness the Committee adopted the concept of Access Paths (Part 1.9 and 2) and Continuous accessibility (Part 2.2) involving a requirement to provide a Continuous accessible path of travel .

For example, in order for a conveyance such as a bus to be accessible it would require a number of accessible elements including ramps, doorways and allocated spaces. It would also require access paths between those elements in order to link them on a continuous accessible path of travel and thereby ensure the bus itself was accessible. Failure to ensure the ramps, doorways and allocated spaces linked together on a continuous accessible path of travel would ordinarily result in the bus not being accessible.

The Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport Guidelines note in Part 2.1 that "The existence of an access path is implicit in many sections of the Disability Standards" indicating that those responsible for applying the Standards should consider Access Paths as being fundamental to its effective application.

In summary I would say that in applying and interpreting the Transport Standards the following issues need to be noted:

  1. If the performance requirements of the Standards for accessible conveyances, premises and infrastructure are met then operators are fulfilling their responsibilities under the DDA.
  2. The performance requirements may be met by constructing the relevant conveyance, premises and infrastructure in accordance with the referenced technical specifications (primarily Australian Standards) or through providing Equivalent access by some alternate means which provides equivalent amenity, comfort, convenience, dignity, price and safety.
  3. Accessible conveyances, premises and infrastructure are made up of various elements that must be linked by a series of access paths that provide a continuous accessible path of travel if the performance requirements of the Standards are to be met.
  4. Careful consideration needs to be given to determine which elements must be addressed as all elements are not necessarily relevant in all situations. For example, doorways are not a relevant element at bus stops.
  5. Leaving out required elements or failing to ensure those elements link together on a continuous accessible path of travel would mean that the performance requirements of the Standards are not being met.

Application to Bus Stops

Before looking at some of the technical questions on the application of the Standards I would like to comment on the general application of the Standards to bus stops: in particular the responsibilities of those accountable for bus stops; compliance and complaints issues and the circumstances under which non-compliance or variations with the technical provisions of the Standards are permissible.

Are bus stops covered by the Standards and who is responsible for compliance?

Part 1.4 of the Standards clearly states that they apply to "providers and supporting premises and infrastructure."

Part 1.18 defines Infrastructure as "any structure or facility that is used by passengers in conjunction with travelling on a public transport service".

Part 1.22 defines a Provider as "a person or organisation that is responsible for the supply or maintenance of public transport infrastructure". This Part also notes that Infrastructure "does not include any area beyond immediate boarding points (for example bus stops, wharves, ranks, rail stations, terminals)."

Several Parts of the Standards specifically refer to bus stops and the Compliance Schedule also includes specific sections on bus stops.

My interpretation of these Parts is that bus stops are part of the infrastructure of a public transport service and that the Provider is whoever is responsible for constructing and maintaining the bus stops. This is usually, but not always, Local Government Authorities.

While Part 1.22 limits the application to the immediate infrastructure associated with transport services in the case of bus stops I believe that this would include other infrastructural elements such as seating or a shelter (if provided) if there was evidence to show that they were associated with the bus stop and intended to be "used by passengers in conjunction with travelling on a public transport service." (as referred to in Part 1.18).

I also believe that a Provider is responsible for ensuring that there is a continuous accessible path of travel between the infrastructure covered by the Standards, in this case a bus stop, and the surrounding paths that service it. It would clearly be quite contrary to the intent of the Standards to have a bus ticketing office connect to the general footpath via a set of steps, or to have a raised bus stop platform connecting to the surrounding footpath via a step.

Compliance

The Transport Standards came into force on 15 August 2002 and from that date all newly constructed infrastructure was required to comply with the Standards (Part 32.1). So, for example, if a new bus stop was being constructed it must comply with the requirements of the Standards.

Similarly if an associated piece of transport infrastructure used by passengers in conjunction with travelling on a public transport service, such as a new bus shelter, was being built at an existing bus stop after the Standards commencement date I believe that this also must comply with the requirements of the Standards.

In addition any existing infrastructure undergoing substantial refurbishment or alteration after the commencement date would also be required to comply with the Standards at the time of the refurbishment or alteration (Part 32.1).

So, for example, if an existing bus stop were simply having the signage flag replaced because of vandalism I do not believe the Standards would require the whole bus stop to be upgraded at the time of flag replacement. Similarly if a relatively new bus stop shelter was having a smashed glass pane replaced I do not believe this would trigger a requirement to upgrade the whole shelter until caught by the general compliance timeframe requirements as set out below.

However, if for example the bus stop pole was being replaced as part of a program of upgrading, requiring digging up of the foundation, I would consider this to be substantial work thereby triggering a requirement for the bus stop to be upgraded to the requirements of the Standards.

Similarly if the bus stop shelter was having the roof and seating replaced because of excessive wear I would consider this to be substantial work warranting a full upgrade. The question of what is 'substantial' thereby triggering full compliance with the Standards requirements is of course subjective and a final decision on this question would be the responsibility of a Court in the event of a complaint.

Finally all existing bus stops are required to comply with the Standards at target dates specified in Schedule 1 of the Standards (Part 32.2) as follows:

31 December 2007 - 25% of bus stops

31 December 2012 - 55% of bus stops

31 December 2017 - 90% of bus stops

31 December 2022 - 100% of bus stops

Complaints

Section 32 of the DDA clearly states that it is unlawful to contravene a Disability Standard.

In the case of bus stops I believe this means that complaints of a contravention of the Transport Standards can be made in four situations.

First, where a new bus stop and associated infrastructure is built and the bus stop does not comply with the Transport Standards.

Second, where substantial refurbishment or alteration of an existing bus stop and/or associated infrastructure is undertaken and the Provider fails to ensure the whole bus stop complies with the Standards.

Third, where Equivalent access or direct assistance do not deliver equivalent amenity, comfort, convenience, dignity, price or safety.

Finally, complaints are possible at the various compliance timetable dates if there is evidence that the percentage compliance rates have not been achieved.

A complaint could be lodged with the HREOC and an attempt to conciliate an agreement would be made. If this were not successful the complainant would be able to pursue their complaint with the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court.

It is only the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court that can make a determination about whether or not the Standards have been contravened and, if so, what action the service provider must take to remedy the situation.

It is my view that in assessing a complaint the central question should be "is there evidence that the Standards have not been effectively implemented?" If the answer to that question is yes then it would be up to the Court to determine whether or not the defence of unjustifiable hardship applied and, if not, what remedy would be required.

Equivalent access, direct assistance, unjustifiable hardship and temporary exemptions

While the Standards require Providers to fully comply with those Standards over specified timeframes, there are a number of provisions within the Standards that would allow Providers to:

  • vary the equipment or infrastructure in a way that provides for equivalent access (Part 33.3);
  • address non-compliant elements through direct assistance (Part 33.6);
  • claim that a particular requirement would impose an unjustifiable hardship (Part 33.7)

There is also a mechanism within the DDA to allow operators to apply to HREOC for a temporary exemption from coverage of the Standards.

In relation to bus stops I would envisage these provisions could be used in a number of ways if the Provider were proposing to do something other than full compliance with the technical provisions of the Standards and/or its timeframe for compliance.

First, a Provider might look at technical solutions to facilitating access from a boarding point to a conveyance other than the way identified in the Standards. For example, a Provider might work with an Operator to develop a platform lifting device on the conveyance to allow access from the road surface rather than a raised footpath area. Similarly an Operator might design a ramping system that would meet the required angles as specified in Part 6.4 of the Standards.

Second, the Provider might negotiate an agreement with the Operator or some other group to ensure suitably trained personnel are available to provide Equivalent access through direct assistance. I note that Part 33.4 requires that when Equivalent access is being proposed, the Provider and Operator must consult with passengers with disabilities who use the service or with organisations representing people with disabilities.

Third, a Provider might decide to not fully comply with the Standards or part of the Standards on the basis that it believes that it would experience an unjustifiable hardship in doing so. In this situation any complaint against the Provider could ultimately result in it having to convince a Court that it would experience an unjustifiable hardship if required to fully implement the Standards. While there may be situations where extreme topographical or technical difficulties might result in a successful claim of unjustifiable hardship, I would expect this to be uncommon, especially in relation to new bus stops constructed after the Standards commenced.

Finally, a Provider might apply for a temporary exemption for up to five years from some aspect of the Standards or from the requirements of the compliance timeframe. Such applications would be subject to a public comment process and would generally only be granted if there was a commitment by the Provider to addressing the compliance requirements within the period of the temporary exemption.

For example, a Provider may have audited all the bus stops in their area and have determined that budgetary and technical limits would mean that they would not be able to meet their compliance responsibilities until 12 months after the deadline required under the Standards. A temporary exemption might be sought to provide protection from complaints during that additional compliance time.

In summary I would say that while generally it is unlawful to contravene the Standards there are a number of situations in which non-compliance with the referenced technical provisions would not be unlawful; as follows:

  1. Where equivalent access was provided through some other means such as technical innovation or direct assistance.
  2. Where the Provider was able to show full compliance would result in an unjustifiable hardship.
  3. Where a temporary exemption had been obtained.

Fitting the elements of an accessible bus stop together

I would now like to provide my interpretation of what the Standards say in relation to the various elements that make up an accessible bus stop and how they fit together on an access path to form a continuous accessible path of travel.

The Standards include in 'Schedule 1 Target dates for compliance' a clear list of elements associated with the provision of accessible infrastructure including bus stops. This includes:

  1. Access paths (Part 1.9 and 2)
  2. Manoeuvring areas (Part 3)
  3. Passing areas (Part 4)
  4. Ramps (Part 6)
  5. Waiting areas (Part 7)
  6. Boarding (Part 8)
  7. Allocated space (Part 9)
  8. Surfaces (Part 10)
  9. Handrails and grabrails (Part 11)
  10. Stairs (Part 14)
  11. Symbols (Part 16)
  12. Signs (Part 17)
  13. Tactile ground surface indicators (Part 18)
  14. Lighting (Part 20)
  15. Street furniture (Part 23)
  16. Information (Part 27)

Not all of these elements will be relevant at all bus stops. For example, the Lighting element describes the level of lighting required where lighting is provided, but it does not require that lighting be provided at all bus stops.

However, the inclusion of all of the above elements in the compliance schedule clearly indicates their importance as issues to be considered and addressed where relevant.

I do not intend to simply restate the technical specifications (primarily Australian Standards) referenced in the Transport Standards as those responsible for the design and construction of bus stops should have access to these specifications and should be experienced in applying them.

There are, however, a number of areas where questions of interpretation appear to have caused difficulty in the implementation of the Standards and I would like to offer my interpretation of these areas where relevant.

While there is no single solution to the many situations Providers will face as a result of differing topography, existing infrastructure or climatic variations, I believe that solutions can be found if the principle of a continuous accessible path of travel is applied.

1. Access paths (Part 1.9 and 2)

The purpose of these Parts is to ensure that Operators and Providers understand that Access paths are fundamental to achieving the goal of accessible transport services.

Part 1.9 defines an access path as 'a path that permits independent travel for all passengers within public transport premises, infrastructure or conveyances'.

Part 2 states that an Access path must provide unhindered passage and a continuous accessible path of travel. The Standards reference AS 1428.2 - 1992 Clauses 7 (which in turn references AS 1428.1) and 8.1 to provide further technical guidance.

Overall I believe these references require uninterrupted access paths that would allow passengers with disabilities to:

  • get to and away from the bus stop - while the Standards do not extend beyond the bus stop I believe that they do require a seamless transition from the bus stop to the surrounding footpath where one exists;
  • have sufficient circulation space to get onto and off an accessible bus;
  • safely use a boarding devise deployed by an accessible bus; and
  • get to and from any infrastructure associated with the bus stop and used by passengers in conjunction with travelling on a public transport service, such as a bus shelter.

2. Manoeuvring areas (Part 3)

The purpose of this Part is to ensure that sufficient space is provided to allow a person using a mobility aid to manoeuvre between the various elements of the bus stop (including any shelter provided) and the bus.

The minimum requirements for circulation space at a bus stop are provided in AS 1428.2 Clause 6.2. This requires an area of 2040mm x 1540mm. Neither the bus stop pole, bus shelter nor any other street furniture should infringe on the space. Care should also be taken to ensure that any kerb ramp of step ramp does not infringe on this space.

3. Passing areas (Part 4)

Generally I would not expect Passing areas to be an issue with bus stops. However, at a bus interchange it may be that several bus tops run along a roadway in which case the design of the interchange should take into consideration the need for sufficient space for people to pass.

4. Ramps (Part 6)

Ramps are required where there is a vertical rise of more than 5mm in order to ensure a continuous accessible path of travel is provided.

Different types of ramps may be required in a number of situations. First a ramp exceeding 1540mm in length must have a maximum gradient of 1 in 14 and have the features described in AS 1428.2 Clause 8 and AS 1428.1.

Second, there may on occasion be a need for a kerb ramp or step ramp. For example, if a bus stop is located on a raised platform surrounded by an uneven grassy verge a person trying to access the bus stop platform or get off the platform would need to use a kerb ramp to access the adjacent usable pathway (the roadway).

Such kerb ramps must have a maximum gradient of 1 in 8 and features described in AS 1428.2 Clause 8 and AS 1428.1 (Figure 8). This would include the requirement for Tactile Ground Surface Indicators as required by AS 1428.2 Clause 8.4.6.

5. Waiting areas (Part 7)

The Standards do not require Providers to provide waiting areas such as seating or covered bus shelters. However, if waiting areas are provided they must include a minimum of 2 seats or 5% of the seats (whichever is the greater) identified as available for passengers with disabilities and 2 spaces or 5% of the area for passengers using mobility aids.

The Standards do not specify how the seating required for people with disabilities should be identified, but signage typically found on trains and buses requesting travellers give up their seat for older passengers or people with a disability would seem to me to be appropriate.

The design of the seating is covered under Part 23 of the Standards and the dimensions of the spaces to be provided are covered in Part 9 of the Standards (Allocated space).

6. Boarding (Part 8)

There are three aspects of this Part of the Standards that are relevant to those responsible for bus stops.

First, the Standards at Part 8.1 inform Providers that it is assumed the boarding point will have a firm and level surface onto which a boarding devise can be deployed. Details of this are provided in Part 10 Surfaces, but I believe that rough ground and grass verges would not always provide such a surface, particularly when affected by climatic conditions.

Second, the Standards say at Part 8.1 (2) that if a kerb is installed it must be at least 150mm higher than the road surface. The Standards do not, however, require a kerb or raised area for a bus stop. This requirement simply gives information to the bus operator that if there is a kerb they can assume it will be at least 150mm higher than the road in order that the bus operator can design their on-board ramps accordingly.

Finally, the Provider has a responsibility, along with the Operator to ensure the interface between the infrastructure and the bus does not exceed the maximum inclines for the slope of boarding ramps found in Part 6.4. That is:

  • 1 in 12 for unassisted access;
  • 1 in 8 for unassisted access where the ramp length is less than 1520mm; and
  • 1 in 4 for assisted access.

Meeting these requirements necessarily involves consultation between Providers and Operators in order to ensure the requirements can be met or Equivalent access is provided through mechanisms such as an on board lifting device. I note again that if assisted access or some other Equivalent access is proposed by a Provider or Operator Part 33.4 requires consultation with passengers with disabilities or organisations representing them.

7. Allocated space (Part 9)

This Part refers to the space required for a person using a mobility aid in infrastructure such at a bus stop Waiting area if provided. If a covered shelter is provided the space should be under the covered area in order to ensure equal amenity.

This Part of the Standards refers to the dimensions for the spaces to be provided which is 800mm x 1300mm.

8. Surfaces (Part 10)

The Standards require a flat and firm surface at the boarding point for bus stops.

This Part provides technical references for such surfaces including AS 1428.2 Clause 9 which in turn references AS 1428.1 Clause 12 which states that floors must have slip resistant surfaces with a texture which is traversable by a wheelchair. The similarly referenced AS 1428.1 Supplement 1 Clause C12 identifies a range of surfaces that might meet these criteria. As previously stated I do not consider grass or rough earth road edges meet the requirements of a flat and firm surface, particularly in areas affected by climate.

9. Handrails and grabrails (Part 11)

Generally I do not believe the Standards require handrails be provided at bus stops. However, where handrails are provided the Standards provide references to AS 1428.2 for technical specifications.

10. Stairs (Part 14)

The Standards require that stairs cannot be the sole means of access to infrastructure and generally I do not believe that this requirement is relevant to bus stops. However where stairs are provided alongside a continuous accessible path of travel these specifications are relevant.

11. Symbols (Part 16)

I do not consider this Part to be relevant to bus stops.

12. Signs (Part 17)

Generally speaking I do not believe this Part to be relevant to bus stops. However, where signage is provided in relation to infrastructure this Part provides relevant information and technical requirements.

13. Tactile ground surface indicators (Part 18)

Tactile Ground Surface Indicators (TGSI) are required at bus stops or bus zones to indicate the safe boarding point. If there is a ramp or kerb ramp associated with the bus stop, TGSI are also required in compliance with AS 1428.2.

14. Lighting (Part 20)

The Standards do not require lighting be provided at bus stops. However, if lighting is provided AS 1428.2 Clause 19.1 provides details of illumination levels required.

15. Street furniture (Part 23)

The Standards require that seating be provided along an access path if the walking distance exceeds 60 metres. I do not believe that this Part will be relevant to bus stops. However, if a bus shelter is provided with seating this Part is the appropriate technical reference.

16. Information (Part 27)

The Standards require that general information about transport services must be accessible to all passengers. I do not believe this means that a Provider must make information available at a bus stop.

It does, however, require that when general information, such as the route number of buses stopping at the bus stop or a list of times for buses, is provided it must be accessible to all passengers at the bus stop. (I note that in the case of information it may well be the Operator who provides this information and not the Provider of the bus stop.)

The Standards specifically refer to the size and format of such information saying that it must be at least 18 points and san serif.

The Standards do not, however, specifically refer to technical requirements for information to be made available in raised tactile form, in Braille or in audio form.

Part 27.2 makes it clear that where information cannot be provided in a passenger's preferred format direct assistance must be given.

So, for example, if a blind person's preferred format is Braille and the Provider decided they could not provide the timetable information that is available to other passengers in Braille the Provider would be responsible for ensuring that information could be provided through direct assistance.

Such direct assistance might take the form of a telephone information line a person could contact before leaving on their trip, or an arrangement whereby the Operator provides that information to the passenger at the point of travel.

Again I note again that if assisted access or some other Equivalent access is proposed Part 33.4 requires consultation with passengers with disabilities or organisations representing them.

Conclusion

The design and location of bus stops and shelters (where provided) must take into consideration climate, topography, existing street furniture, general pedestrian circulation and Operator needs. On occasion these factors may result in decisions to provide Equivalent access, including assisted access, where the referenced technical solutions cannot be met.

Whatever the solutions proposed, the application of the Transport Standards to bus stops requires linking together all the relevant elements, such as circulation space, TGSI, surfaces and ramps, along continuous accessible paths of travel.

As stated earlier I would welcome feedback on the views expressed above and would encourage those responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of bus stops to share their experiences of good design, particularly design aimed at overcoming some of the difficulties arising from topographical or infrastructure problems.

I would also encourage people to consider issues that might need to be taken up during the review of the Standards due at the end of 2007.

I wish you every success with your project and look forward to receiving updates as it progresses.

Yours sincerely

Commissioner Graeme Innes AM
Human Rights Commissioner and
Commissioner responsible for Disability Discrimination

2 June 2006

Resources

The US organisation Easter Seals has produced a useful publication to assist people responsible for Bus Stops under the US Americans with Disabilities Act to design, construct and maintain bus stops.  In particular the document looks at a number of issues such as safety, the positioning of bus stops, difficulties arising from other street furniture and maintenance. While this publication relates to US law it nonetheless contains valuable ideas that are equally relevant to Australia. You can download the document as a pdf file at:

http://projectaction.easterseals.com/site/DocServer/06BSTK_Complete_Toolkit.pdf?docID=21443

Alternatively go to the Easter Seals website and download the pdf or text copy at:

http://projectaction.easterseals.com/site/PageServer?pagename=ESPA_homepage ; go to 'Free resources' and then to 'Order and download free Publications' and in the search field type in the full title 'Toolkit for the assessment of Bus Stop accessibility and Safety'.