The following is the speech delivered by the Commissioner for Transport, Mr Robert Footman today (October 22) at the International Forum on Disabilities to Mark the End Year of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons Osaka Forum - Partnership for Disability Rights:
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be in Osaka today to address a group of such distinguished professionals from the rehabilitation sector of countries in the Asia Pacific Region, and share with you our experience and new vision in promoting the disability rights for accessibility to public transport services and traffic facilities, that is, the vision of "Transport for All".
Hong Kong is a small city with a total land area of less than 1,100 square kilometers, but it has one of the world's best public transport systems comprising railways, buses, light buses, taxis and ferries. We have more than 11 million commuters everyday, with no direct government subsidies. During the last decade, we have promoted accessibility by encouraging transport operators to provide facilities for more than 270,000 persons with different types of disability. As the agency to provide traffic facilities, the Transport Department is also determined to provide a barrier-free and accessible street environment to facilitate mobility and social integration of people with disabilities in Hong Kong.
My talk today will be under a few main headings, namely Government Policy and Legislation, Institutional Arrangements, Current Approach, our new vision of "Transport for All", and some comments.
Government Policy and Legislation
Access and transport are priority issues for people with a disability. Both are necessary for the overall objective of equalization of opportunities and full social integration. With this in mind, the Hong Kong SAR Government's policy objectives are stipulated in our 1995 White Paper on Rehabilitation - Equal Opportunities and Full Integration: A Better Tomorrow for All. They are to ensure:
* the development of a barrier-free physical environment, which permits access to all buildings and facilities for all people with a disability; and
* the development of a transport system which includes provisions to meet the needs of people with a disability so as to enhance their ability to move around at will in society and to facilitate their full participation and integration into the community.
The Transport Department of the Hong Kong SAR Government is one of the agencies that oversees and implements the above two policy objectives, through the provision of accessible public transport services and on-street facilities to promote access to transport.
The Disability Discrimination Ordinance protects rights for accessibility to transport. It stipulates that all facilities and services for the public, including those in relation to transport and travel should be accessible to people with disabilities. The street and highway systems and associated transport facilities enable the community as a whole to pursue its day-to-day activities. So, it is essential to ensure that the requirements of the Ordinance are observed in the design and provision of these facilities. To achieve this, designers and planners need to be fully aware of the needs of the people with disabilities, to provide appropriate facilities for them to travel safely and independently. To this end, the Transport Department has developed and formulated a Transport Planning and Design Manual, in consultation with representatives of people with disabilities, to provide general guidelines on the design and provision of facilities and promote awareness of such factors. The Manual, which has been widely adopted by different planners and providers of services for people with disabilities, provides guidelines for
* accessible facilities along barrier-free routes;
* crossing facilities for people with disabilities;
* parking facilities for people with disabilities;
* road works and signing; and
* transport services for people with disabilities.
Other legislation also makes specific provisions for people with disabilities. For example, the Road Traffic (Driving Licence) Regulations contain provisions for disability rights for driving; and the Public Bus Services Ordinance contains provisions to empower the Commissioner for Transport to specify requirements for accessible facilities on franchised bus services. To continue to promote equal opportunities and to uphold the rights for accessibility to public transport services and traffic facilities, we will keep our legislation under constant review.
Institutional Arrangements to Uphold Disability Rights for Accessibility to Transport
Rehabilitation covers a wide spectrum of services. The Commissioner for Rehabilitation is responsible to the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food for the formulation of overall policy on rehabilitation, and for coordinating the planning and executive actions of government departments and non-governmental organizations. The Commissioner for Transport is responsible to the Secretary for Environment, Transport and Works for formulation and implementation of policy for promoting the rights for accessibility to public transport services, and a barrier free street environment.
To facilitate communication among representatives of people with disabilities, public transport operators and relevant government departments, the Transport Department set up a Working Group on Access to Public Transport by People with Disabilities in 1993. The Working Group has provided a useful forum for the exchange of views and discussions of issues of common concern. It also takes the lead in tackling problems common to all public transport operators, such as establishing common standards and guidelines on the provision and modifications of facilities. The Working Group will continue to identify new initiatives and monitor implementation of agreed programmes.
The progress of the Working Group is reported annually to the Sub-committee on Access of the Rehabilitation Advisory Committee where the Transport Department is also represented. The Sub-committee on Access, chaired by an unofficial member, looks after all access issues relating to transport, buildings, recreation and sports. The Sub-committee is a useful forum for representatives of people with disabilities to express their views and opinions on accessibility to transport services at a wider policy perspective. The forum also enables relevant government departments to consult effectively on new policy initiatives.
Other advisory committees also have a role to play.
* The Transport Advisory Committee is entrusted to give advice to the Chief Executive - in - Council of the Hong Kong SAR on all matters relating to internal transport policy, and to oversee and give steer on matters relating to provision of public transport services to the public, including services for people with disabilities.
* The Panel on Transport of the Legislative Council, monitors and scrutinizes government policies and issues of public concern relating to transport matters and provides a forum for the exchange and dissemination of views on these policy matters. It also receives briefings and formulates views on any major legislative or financial proposals in respect of transport policies.
* Similarly, the Panel on Welfare Services of the Legislative Council monitors and scrutinizes policies and issues relating to welfare and rehabilitation services and provides a forum for the exchange and dissemination of views.
* The Equal Opportunities Commission, a statutory body to implement, amongst others, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance, was established in 1996. The Commission works towards the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy, disability and family status. It also aims to eliminate harassment and vilification on the ground of disability and promotes equality of opportunities between persons with and without a disability. On transport, the Commission upholds disability rights through investigation of public complaints and review of various government guidelines and procedures.
Current Approach in Promoting Disability Rights for Accessibility to Transport
The legislative measures and institutional arrangements mentioned above have provided the Transport Department and other government departments an effective and efficient administrative environment to take forward and implement government policy initiatives in upholding disability rights for accessibility to transport. At present, the transport needs of people with disabilities are met in the following ways:
* public transport and railway operators are encouraged to make their vehicles and services accessible as far as is practicable. The Government does not provide any direct subsidy for them to provide such facilities. However, we provide incentives in the form of profitable operating environment, and guidelines and design standards. With our encouragement, the franchised bus operators in Hong Kong have already introduced about 2,000 wheelchair accessible franchised buses in Hong Kong, or about 30% of all franchised buses. These buses are equipped with fixed ramp and wheelchair parking space inside the compartment. We aim to increase the number of wheelchair accessible buses to about 3,200 by 2006. On taxis, we have also introduced tailor-made facilities for people with visual impairment. At present, over 16,000 or 90% of all taxis are installed with a Braille and tactile vehicle registration number plate inside the vehicle compartment. We expect that by 2004, all 18,000 taxis in Hong Kong will be equipped with this plate. Since October 2001, about 6,700 newly registered taxis in Hong Kong have been installed with talking taxi meters which can announce taxi service and taxi fare related messages in Cantonese, Putonghua or English. The number of taxis with talking taxi meters is now increasing progressively.
* special transport services are provided for those who are unable to use public transport. There are two main types: center-based transport and the Rehabus. The former caters for people with disabilities attending rehabilitation institutions and special schools. Rehabus service is a territory-wide transport network comprising a fleet of about 90 wheelchair accessible buses. The network offers scheduled and feeder services on fixed routes and dial-a-ride service to enable some 490,000 passengers a year to travel to work and school, or participate in activities other than center-based rehabilitation services. These two types of special transport services are funded by the Government;
* a range of concessions are also provided for drivers with physical disabilities who drive their own vehicles. These concessions include exemption from payment of driving licence fee, annual vehicle licence fee, vehicle first registration tax, tolls for using government tunnels and bridges, duty on hydrocarbon oil and parking fee for on-street metered parking spaces; and
* Government provides accessible traffic facilities like over 10,000 electronic audible traffic signals and dropped kerbs at crossings.
Transport for All - A New Vision for Promoting Disability Rights for Accessibility to Public Transport Services and Traffic Facilities
The Hong Kong SAR Government is determined to provide a barrier-free and accessible street environment and accessible transport services for people with disabilities. As indicated above, we have made good progress. But our present approach is rather demand responsive and does not provide a clear way to facilitate building a common consensus among stakeholders. Furthermore, we want to adopt a strategic approach to plan and provide accessible transport services and barrier-free environment to all in our society. Our new vision, 'Transport for All", is designed to develop a clear concept of the way ahead, consensus among stakeholders, and to help us all understand and deliver our objectives to the best of our abilities.
Under this umbrella, we are formulating a "5-Betters Strategy" to provide clear directions for planning and implementation. The "5-Betters Strategy" includes:
* Better accessible transport services for all - the target results under this strategy include further expansion of accessible franchised bus, railway, ferry and rehabus services as well as wheelchair accessible taxi services.
* Better public transport infrastructure and facilities for all - which covers provision of accessible public transport interchanges, bus termini, taxi stands, ferry piers and railway stations and other ancillary facilities which would facilitate easy interchange with public transport services.
* Better streets and pedestrian areas for all - we aim to provide better pedestrian facilities like electronic audible traffic signals by 2004 at all signalized crossings, tactile guide paths to connect major public transport interchanges and community facilities for people with disabilities, more lifts at footbridges and more extensive pedestrian areas in the coming decade.
* Better planning standards, guidelines and procedures, including updating our Transport Planning and Design Manual and developing the Hong Kong "DPTAC" standards for new franchised buses.
* Better partnership for actions and results - this includes developing existing advisory channels on new initiatives and new areas of needs, launching public education programmes to promote the concept of "Transport for All" and partnering with overseas / international organizations to promote disability rights for accessibility to transport.
I hope that the new approach will give us some real motives and meaningful concrete achievements in the years ahead.
I have given a broad account of our approach in Hong Kong. I would now like to make a number of comments:
* The various formal elements I have described, policy, legislation, institutional arrangements and so on, are vital components in promoting real progress.
* Planning standards and guidelines give concrete expression to policy and legislative intent. If colleagues at the front line have clear standards and guidelines, then the facilities will be built properly, at little if any expense, from the start. Retrofitting changes is much more difficult.
* Where something is needed on a large scale, it helps to develop a programmed approach, with clear targets for completion. We have been able to do this for dropped kerbs, electronic audible traffic signals, and Braille plates in taxicabs.
* Similarly, if a more open-ended approach is needed, we have found developing an ongoing programme helps us - for example we need to develop more tactile paths, and a programmed rather than piece meal approach will help us focus on this task, and deliver more;
* We hope that the new vision "Transport for All" will help motivate, energize, and enhance our actual achievements.
* Finally, partnership is vital. Partnership with friends and representatives from those with disabilities has helped us in Transport Department to be more responsive to needs. Two examples: first, "Transport for All" was in fact suggested to us in one of my meetings with representatives from those with disabilities, and I am delighted that Cheung Kin-fai, Benny Cheung, Hansen Lee and Philip Yuen who made the suggestion are here today. Second, Hansen Lee, also here today, and Leo Lam took me on a check walk in Hong Kong to see for myself the difficulties faced on our streets. Their positive approach, and their understanding of the problems we face, are very powerful motivations for me and my staff, and help us to make real and meaningful progress.
With the new vision of "Transport for All" and the "5-Betters Strategy" outlined above, the Transport Department of the Hong Kong SAR Government is determined to strive for better accessible transport system for people with disabilities and the entire community in the coming decade. Our commitment for upholding disability rights for accessibility to transport services and traffic facilities will not fade away. In 2012, I trust the then Commissioner for Transport from Hong Kong can give you an encouraging report highlighting the major achievements made through and under the new vision of "Transport for All". Thank you.
End/Tuesday, October 22, 2002