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Disabled claim half of new buses won't suit their needs

Members of the

Members of the

The "Bus For All" network, which includes pressure groups acting on behalf of the disabled, continues its battle to halt the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) plan to buy some 3,000 natural gas-powered buses. The network claims that half of the new buses would not offer convenient access to the disabled, while the project's current terms of reference, it claims, also suggest corruption and rigging of specifications.

After seeking assistance from the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) last Monday, the network is now trying to meet Soithip Trisuddhi, deputy permanent secretary for Transport, to seek her help, said the network's secretary, Teerayudth Sukonthavit. They also plan to host a seminar on July 17 at the Thai Health Foundation, he added.

The network, which has been battling for buses that are "accessible to all" for two years, wants the project's current terms of reference - which has been amended 10 times - to be scrapped, claiming the project could be plagued by corruption and specification rigging.

In a statement issued on Monday, the network claimed that 1,524 out of the 3,183 new NGV buses to be bought under this project were air-conditioned low-floor ones, while the remaining 1,659 were regular non-air-conditioned vehicles. These regular buses would have staircases as well as a middle pole partition, which prevented people with disabilities, or those with wheelchairs, from taking the bus ride, the network said.

Despite protests and revisions, the TOR maintained the initial content. About 26,000 people signed a petition calling for changes. The signatures, obtained via the website change.org, had been distributed to all units involved with BMTA.

Although BMTA offered to install lifts in these regular buses, the network believed it would still be disadvantageous to people with disabilities. Such an elevator would take five minutes to take in a disabled passenger, whereas the low platform bus ramps would take only 20 seconds.

"Even if the buses had elevators, the disabled persons wouldn't use them because they'd be afraid that getting on and off the bus would take too long and bring disapproving looks and a perception they were delaying everyone," said Teerayudth.

"We oppose the idea of elevators installed in regular buses and ask that the Transport Ministry buy low-floor buses instead, so that everyone can take a bus - whether they are disabled, sick, elderly or pregnant. The taxpayers' money spent in this project should benefit everyone," Teerayudth said. "The [BMTA's] suggestion does not solve the problem at its root - when we provide an answer to reject their excuse, they keep finding another one," he added.

The network's study of the project also suggested there might be corruption involved. Not only did it cost Bt13 billion to buy the buses, the maintenance costs for the next 10 years also would amount to Bt15 billion. BMTA and the Transport Ministry didn't mention this clearly, leading to doubts over the project's transparency, he added.




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