Public Transit Accessibility in Sydney, Australia
No Metros in Small Towns
As a Charlottesville native who attended university in two different small New England towns, I don’t deal with metros on a regular basis. Neither Charlottesville nor my temporary New England homes have any metro systems to speak of. As much as I love small cities and towns, they often require you to have a car to get around. Being reliant on car transportation can be limiting and I value the freedom metro transit gives everyone—or at the least the freedom it can give if it is designed with accessibility in mind. On my recent travels I encountered several similarities in metro systems around the world: preferential seating, wheelchair seating areas, boarding assistance zones, tactile tiles along the edge of the platform. I was pleasantly surprised to see these features while using the metro in Chile, Brazil, Portugal, and Australia. Sydney Taking it a Step Further
When I arrived in Sydney, I was shocked by the accessibility of everything from the metro to the street crossings. This was partially because I had arrived from Southeast Asia, where transport often consisted of climbing into the back of a songthaew —a converted truck used as shared transport—or cramming into a rickshaw or tuk-tuk. I loved my time in Southeast Asia, but accessibility standards were very different. So, when I arrived in Sydney I was happily taking pictures of the braille signage at the street crossings. What stood out to me the most, though, were the metro ads that mentioned invisible disability. Signs in metros often recommend offering your seat to older adults, people using mobility equipment, and pregnant women. Sydney was different. Their sign pointed out that “some reasons for needing a seat are harder to spot than others.”
Right before my trip, I developed plantar fasciitis. Some days it would barely bother me, but other days I felt like I was standing on nails. Travel frequently consists of a lot of walking, especially for someone like me who enjoys aimlessly wandering through streets and alleys. I often found myself on a bus or metro at the end of the day in extreme pain. All I wanted to do was sit. At rush hour this normally presented quite a challenge. When I managed to grab a seat I would feel guilty for not offering it to others as they boarded. They must think I’m being selfish for not getting up. When all seats were occupied I didn’t have enough confidence to advocate for myself and ask for a seat. I wasn’t surprised that no one would offer me a seat without me asking for it; I am a young woman in my 20s, who other than looking tired seemed fine at a glance. I didn’t match any of the figurines that were on most metro preferential seat signage—a pregnant lady, a person with a cane, a person with a wheelchair. So, it is for both personal and professional reasons that I applaud Sydney for having a campaign that explicitly includes invisible disabilities. Information on Sydney’s Transit Accessibility
Sydney recently made a significant investment in improving the accessibility of their metro stations. If you are traveling to Sydney, they have extensive information on their website about the accessibility of their transit systems that utilize the Opal Card, a “smartcard [ticket] that you keep, reload and reuse to pay for travel on public transport” in the Sydney area.
The Opal Card includes the metro, bus, light rail, and ferry. They also have additional information on regional trains, accessible taxi service, and community transport for those who cannot access public transit. Their trip planner allows you to filter so only accessible services are shown in the results. Furthermore, their site provides a list of apps that travelers can download and use when planning an accessible trip.
Sydney is a beautiful city that stole part of my heart, and I’m happy to see the efforts they are making to increase the accessibility of their public transit systems.