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November 2002

Accessible tram ride

Melbourne's new, low floor, wheelchair access, tram.

By Meredith Wallace,
AQA Victoria.

Tram 109

On a cold wet Friday, two intrepid AQA members - Rees Houston and Meredith Wallace - set out to road test the new low floor trams which run on route 109 (Port Melbourne to Box Hill). The Citadis 300, designed in France, is advertised as "one of the most advanced trams in the world" with a low floor, wide doors and space on board for wheelchairs.

We found the trams (not without difficulty) and travelled on one. How well does it work for a wheelie? Well, there are two sides to that question: Access and Service ...

Ramp access to tram

Access

The articulated tram has two wide opening doors in the middle of the tram. The distance from the ground is 33 cm, described as 'single step access', but a height which would be daunting for most manual chair users, even with a super strong carer.

The usefulness of this tram, then, is dependant on the provision of a platform by Yarra Trams. The door nearer the front has a wheelchair symbol on it and when open, the driver can extend a very small flap which bridges the gap between tram and platform. Platforms will be marked to indicate where you should wait to gain access.

We tried out a motorized wheel chair (MW) and a manual chair (RH) and found both were workable at the door with the ramp. The second door, without a ramp, had a slight gap (about 4 cm) and the floor was slightly raised above platform level. This would be more difficult for a higher level quad to handle in a manual chair, but Rees was able to enter without help.

Once inside the tram there is a ticket dispensing machine at 'stand up' height, unusable for most quads. The ticket validating machine is low and well placed. There are also two well marked buttons at an easy height - one for 'stop' and one to indicate a need for wheelchair access (or off-loading). There seem to be two spaces in the middle of the tram where a wheelchair user can face front, keep out of the aisle and hold a rail for support. The tram acceleration and deceleration was smooth (maybe we had a good driver).

Special Superstops are being built along the route, but not at every stop. The city ones are beside the tram track in the middle of the road, a little wider than the conventional waiting areas, with a ramp at each end (gradient about 1:12) and some shelter from rain. In the city these ramps are entered from the normal pedestrian crossings.

Tram 109 begins its run at Port Melbourne (Beacon Cove) along the light rail track and there are three or four stops on this stretch with raised wooden platforms. There seems to be a slightly bigger difference between platform and tram floor here, and the beginning of the ramp is not a smooth transition. This was tested in drizzling rain, with a very tolerant driver watching us get in and out several times.

Inside the tram - accessible buttons and plenty of room.  Note also folded ramp behind handrail on the right. (Picture: Access Audits Australia).

Service:

The drivers on the special trams were helpful. At Swanston & Collins Street the 'trammie' at the stop showed me where to wait and advised the driver of my presence (the stop was so crowded the driver would probably not have seen me.) The driver got out and supervised my enforced entry into a densely packed tram: "Move back, now. Move along there ... let her in". People were remarkable tolerant of having their ankles lacerated by my footplates and disembarked on either side of my chair at the next stop. Rees tackled the other door and managed to get to the wheelchair parking area in the tram. No one managed to get to a ticket validating machine. Three stops later we tumbled out.

How can you join in a fun day like this? So far, you can ride between Beacon Hill and the City. You can ride up Collins Street from Swanston to Spring, or you can ride down from Spring to Swanston. Or you could get on at any of these stops and ride round on a long trip all the way to the end of the line at Mont Albert (don't expect to get off) and then you could come back. Some time soon there will be another Superstop at Victoria Parade/Brunswick Street.

When do the trams run? Yarra Trams has about 30 of these, not far short of the total 36 on order, however, they decline to issue a timetable. Seems to be in the too-hard basket. We found by ringing the Information number (9619 3406) that we could coax them to give us a few times (2 hours apart) ex Port Melbourne. They recommended ringing Operations (9619 3522) to confirm. Frequency of route 109 between 9.30 and 4.30 is 8 minutes. On the day of the Big Tram Ride we noticed about one in three or four trams were the new accessible type. Trams will be scheduled when the extension to Box Hill is finished.

Onboard, at one of the tram stops.

Superstops
Light rail section stops are at
Summary:
Editors note

The above article was first published by AQA Victoria in their News Link newlsetter (June 2002), and is reprinted with permission. The photos for the article were sourced elsewhere by AQA Victoria due to difficulties meeting up with the Yarra Trams publicity officer.

Postscript

We have received feedback that there is also a portable ramp in each of the new trams, positionined on the wall, behind the folding seat, it is designed so that the driver can get out, put it down, and allow access at almost any stop. This way, it's not just the super stops that are accessible, although the old "safety zones" may be more difficult due to their limited width. However, at regular street stops, it should be quite possible to access one of the new trams using the ramps.

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