15 Sep Accessible metro: how it should be
Photo: Sabina Bakaeva / Gazeta.uz
The new stations of the Tashkent metro delighted many residents and guests of the capital. But contrary to the law, conditions for people with limited mobility have not become an integral part of the metro. How to make the subway accessible while respecting the rights and dignity of passengers? I wrote an op-ed for Gazeta.uz that was published in Russian on 11 September 2020.
Recently, Gazeta.uz journalists made a photo review of the new metro stations, which showed that the subway has not become accessible to disabled people and those with reduced mobility. Anhor.uz journalist Dana Oparina, together with representatives of the Association of the Disabled of Uzbekistan, also conducted public monitoring of the accessibility of the new Kuylyuk line of the new overhead railway.
The metro remains inaccessible to everyone
The designers of the new underground metro stations Yunusabad and Turkistan violated the law “On social protection of disabled people in the Republic of Uzbekistan” and construction norms and rules (SNiP), according to which conditions for people with disabilities should be created for unhindered access to social infrastructure facilities. According to article 9 of the law, projects of new underground metro stations had to be coordinated with public organisations of disabled people. Still, O’zbekiston Temir Yo’ llari (Uzbekistan Railways) did not fulfil this requirement.
When we talk about the accessibility of public transport for people with limited mobility, we mean not only disabled people but also a broader category of people who experience difficulties in moving around the city on their own. People with limited mobility include people with temporary health conditions, the elderly, pregnant women, people with strollers, city guests with large suitcases, passengers with heavy luggage or carts, etc. In other words, a barrier-free environment is necessary not only for disabled people but also for everyone with reduced mobility.
An analysis of the problems of the capital, carried out by the project of the Public Council under the khokimiyat “City for All”, showed that about 70 thousand people with various forms of impairments and 300 thousand elderly people live in Tashkent. It can be assumed that the number of pregnant women and people carrying children in strollers is also considerable.
The inaccessibility of the urban environment negatively affects not only the residents but also the guests of the capital. According to the data of the State Committee for Tourism in 2019, 1/5 of the tourists coming to Uzbekistan were tourists over 55 years old. For example, the majority of tourists from Japan are people over the age of 60. According to the World Health Organization, 15% of the world’s population, or 1 billion people, have some form of disability; in the European Union alone there are about 120 million disabled people.
However, 85% of buildings and social infrastructure in Tashkent remain unsuitable for people with limited mobility, which hinders the development of accessible or universal tourism.
Obviously, during the construction of the Tashkent metro in the late 60s and 70s – the first in Central Asia – the accessibility for citizens with reduced mobility was not taken into account because “there were no invalids in the USSR.” This was the answer given by a Soviet official to the question of whether athletes from the Union would take part in the Paralympic Games in Stoke Mandeville (England). As a result, the entire Soviet social infrastructure was inaccessible to people with limited mobility.
If already existing metro stations are difficult or even impossible to make accessible, then why were these requirements not taken into account when building new metro stations? Are there no “invalids” in independent Uzbekistan either? Considering that most of the bus routes in Tashkent also remain inaccessible to them, they can only use the taxi services.
According to clause 1.2 of the sanitary regulations and standards (SanPiN) No. 0266-09, it is not allowed to develop public transport without taking into account the needs of the disabled and people with limited mobility, and such projects must be coordinated with public organisations of disabled people.
In August last year, in an article on the inaccessibility of “affordable housing” for disabled people and low-income strata of the population in the “Choshtepa” mahalla of the new “Yangi Hayot” district of Tashkent, the question of the lack of clarity of the procedures and mechanism for coordinating social infrastructure facilities with the Tashkent city branch of the Society of the Disabled was already raised. Unfortunately, the administration of Tashkent and the relevant ministries and departments ignored the raised issues.
In London, for example, not all metro stations are accessible to people with limited mobility either. The problem is similar: the construction of the “tube” (as Londoners call their subway) did not take into account the needs of disabled people. However, all new lines and metro stations are necessarily adapted for disabled people and passengers with limited mobility.
The Transport Department of London (TfL) has developed a subway map showing the stations that are accessible to disabled people. Since 2004, the wheelchair icon has been shown on the metro line map for stations where there is easy access from the street to the platform.
Elevators from the surface to the platform are the most convenient and safest way to ensure accessibility, while high elevations and steep staircases to enter the metro represent a health hazard for passengers with limited mobility. Why was it impossible to envisage elevators when designing two new metro stations – Yunusabad and Turkistan?
There is an elevator, but not for all passengers with limited mobility
On September 7, the press service of the O’zbekiston Temir Yo’ llari (Uzbekistan Railways) published a commentary on the creation of conditions for people with limited mobility on the new overhead railway. The article emphasises that the elevators are intended only for the low-mobility category of passengers, and they cannot be used by other categories.
It is clear from the commentary that the metro management classifies as passengers with limited mobility only persons with disability group I, who, together with their assistants, are eligible free travel in public transport. In this regard, for them “there is no need to get to the platform through the cash register, turnstiles and station lobbies”. “This convenience was thought out at the design stage,” says the national railway company. But what about other passengers with reduced mobility?
In other words, only passengers with a certificate of the disability group I are eligible to use the special elevator and “go up from the street straight to the station platform and go down in the same way.” At the same time, the right of free use of urban public transport (except for taxis) belongs to persons included in the limited list – only people with the disability group I and people with visual impairments, as well as persons accompanying them on trips.
Let’s now assume that a person with a broken leg, temporarily using a wheelchair, or an elderly tourist with a cane, or a woman in her last months of pregnancy, or a parent with a baby carriage who is not entitled to reduced subway fares, wants to use an elevator. To do this, they will first need to buy a ticket at the box office, going up the stairs, and then go back down the same stairs to the elevator?
Usually, in public places, such elevators are always locked or are “out of order”. If a disabled person arrives at the Dustlik-2 station without anyone accompanying him, how will he ask the station staff for help? After all, for this, he needs to somehow overcome the stairs! Or will he be forced to call for help: “Help to open the elevator”? How to call it, if not humiliation? As a result, there is an elevator, but it is difficult for passengers with limited mobility to use it.
Why do we still believe that disabled people should use public transport only accompanied by third parties? Why do we not allow disabled people and others with limited mobility and guests of the capital to move around the city on their own?
Enter at one station and not exit at another
Public monitoring of the Association of Disabled People showed that elevators and escalators are available at the Dustlik-2 station of the overhead railway, implying convenience for the movement of wheelchairs users or those using crutches. At the entrance to station No. 2, the first barriers are already visible: the ticket window is located high, and a wheelchair user (it can be a foreigner without the right to a reduced fare in public transport) will not be able to reach the window and buy a ticket.
Despite the availability of reasonable accommodations for some groups of disabled people, stations No. 6 and No. 7 of the overhead railway are not fully adapted for the movement of passengers with limited mobility. As a result, if a person with a disability of the 1st group can get off the street directly to the platform of the Dustlik-2 station and go to station 7 (Kuylyuk market), then he will not be able to leave the station to the street without assistance.
At station 7 of the overhead railway, the “ramp” with a 45-degree slope does not meet accessibility standards. According to paragraph 3.22 of SanPiN No. 0266−09, the lifting height of each march of the ramp should be no more than 0.6 m with a slope of 1:12. With a lifting height of 0.2 m – no more than 1:10. The cross slope should not exceed 1:50.
Moreover, according to clause 3.23, at the beginning and at the end of each rise, horizontal platforms with a width of at least the width of the ramp itself and a length of at least 1.5 m should be installed; when the direction of the ramp changes, the width of the horizontal platform should ensure the possibility of turning the wheelchair (1, 5 × 1.5 m). The outer side edges of the ramp and platforms should be fenced with bumpers at least 5 cm high.
The management of the “Toshkent Metro” in its appeal noted that at the 6th and 7th stations, where there is no elevator, “there are special “lifting tracks” so that people in wheelchairs can easily go up and down the stair ramp with any tilt.”
Askar Turdugulov, a blogger and activist for the rights of disabled people from Kyrgyzstan (known under the pseudonym Oscar Rise), when asked about the accessibility and safety of such “lifting tracks” for passengers with limited mobility, answered this way:
“I used such a “lifting tracks” in Almaty. They were almost the same, only electric ones. The assistant does not roll it himself, but presses the button, and the tracks, like on a tractor, go. I was scared, they were not reliable. There was always a feeling that it would turn over. Of course, better than nothing, but there is always danger, especially if the angle of inclination is high.”
Moreover, such “lifting tracks” assume that the passenger has a wheelchair and therefore are not accessible to other people with limited mobility who do not use a wheelchair.
“It is best to use electric stairlifts so that you can drive in and sit there, and the assistant will lower you by himself. And in an ideal situation, it is better to build an elevator. Going down on “tracks” is also inequality. Everyone goes down normally, but they drag you on the tracks like some kind of load … I am always for equal rights. I want to go down like all people, ” explains Askar Turdugulov, who himself uses a wheelchair.
There is still a lot to improve
Accessibility monitoring showed that inside the train cars, there is a track indicator that displays the nearest metro station, which creates convenience for deaf people. For the convenience of the blind, the train stop is announced through the speakers. Before the doors of the carriage are closed, red illumination lights up on their side parts when the doors are opened – green, this is convenient for the deaf. There is a special place for wheelchair users inside the carriage.
However, at all elevated metro stations, there is a large gap between the platform and the carriage, which creates additional obstacles for wheelchair users to enter and exit the train carriage on their own. In different countries, this issue is resolved in different ways. For example, in the Tokyo subway, station employees install a mobile ramp.
On the London Underground, some trains have an automatic retractable ramp, and at new stations, the platform level allows access to the car without obstacles. At older stations, metro staff can also offer a mobile ramp.
Tactile pavings for blind and visually impaired passengers were laid on the platforms of new underground and overhead railway stations. However, the tactile paving is too close to the edge of the platform, which poses a risk of falling for blind passengers. At the end of the platform, the tactile paving rests against the wall of the tunnel.
The tactile pavings are laid only along with the aprons, while the laying of such pavings should be provided from the entrance across the entire station for self-orientation of blind and visually impaired passengers. For this, both guide tiles (strips) and warning tiles (bubbles) are used.
Recommendations of public organisations of disabled people
Based on the results of the accessibility monitoring of the metro, carried out following the law “On public control”, the Association of Disabled People of Uzbekistan, which unites 27 organisations of/for disabled people, has developed recommendations to ensure accessibility during the construction and reconstruction of new metro stations.
The chairperson of the Association, Oybek Isakov, urges to comply with the requirements of the legislation of Uzbekistan to create an accessible physical environment for disabled people and people with limited mobility and to take the following measures:
- To coordinate with public organisations of disabled people, the design documentation for the construction or reconstruction of new metro stations for compliance with the requirements of the legislation on the creation of an accessible physical environment.
- It is mandatory to include representatives of public organisations of disabled people in the state commission for the commissioning of the overhead railway stations.
- To create an accessible physical environment for disabled people, at the stations No. 6 and No. 7 of the overhead railway, carry out reconstruction and repair work to install elevators and ramps that meet the requirements of accessibility standards.
- Attention should be paid to the availability of accessible toilets at the new metro stations because there were no toilets at all in the old metro stations.
“I feel like a disabled person not when I sit down and move in a wheelchair, but when I encounter barriers in my path,” notes Natalya Plotnikova, chairperson of the Opa-Singillar Public Association of Disabled Women.
An accessible environment is necessary not only for disabled people but also for a wider group of people with limited mobility and guests of the capital because no one is safe from the possibility of becoming a person with limited mobility, at least for a while.
Urban infrastructure must be accessible and easy to use for everyone, regardless of physical condition – everyone and the economy of the country as a whole will benefit from this. Tashkent should become a city for all.