Towards Accessible Public Transportation in Penang

Dec 11, 2008

Penang, December 11– UNDP and the Economic Planning Unit of Penang today announced that Penang will be the first state in Malaysia to conduct a full audit of its public transport facilities as it develops a comprehensive blueprint to improve the ease of access and mobility for persons with disabilities (PWD) by 2010.

In line with the goals set in the 9th Malaysia Plan, the ‘barrier free’ public transportation study represents a two-year pilot project by the Penang Economic Planning Unit and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the support of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (MWFCD) to boost the economic and social independence of PWDs.


Forming the base of the blueprint, the audit will assess accessibility of PWDs to transportation spanning buses, taxis, trains right up to ferries and airplanes as well as its facilities at pick up points, stations and terminals with an emphasis on interconnectivity between the different modes of public transport.

Among other measures that will be also introduced under this project include a public awareness campaign as well as the establishment of a demand responsive door to door transport service for PWDs.

According to UNDP Assistant Resident Representative, James George Chacko, PWDs have a fundamental right to public transport, which currently remains inaccessible.

“We need to broaden our thinking and efforts on what transportation for PWDs means.  It should not be merely confined to the customary allocation of a handful of seats on transportation vehicles.

“There is a need for greater cooperation among all relevant parties to ensure that we also place adequate emphasis on the physical access to transportation areas such as bus stops in addition to the transportation modes themselves,” he said in his speech. (For the full text of the Welcome Remarks, please click here to download. )

Chacko added that it was hoped that the project would provide critical policy insights for the government to improve the ease of access and mobility for PWDs that could eventually be scaled up throughout the country.

“UNDP believes that the protection and promotion of the human rights of individual disabled persons, particularly in the poorest countries where ¾ of the disabled population lives is contingent upon development being inclusive.

“Poverty for disabled persons is also about social relations and includes issues of ownership, control, participation and access.

“In Malaysia, PWDs continue to face limited choices on where they are able to go and how they will get there, with the vast majority of public transportation remaining inaccessible. The consequences of this exclusion are multi-faceted and include the inability to access basic services such as health care, education, training, employment and retail facilities, which undermines their ability to participate in social and cultural life.  A lack of transport options may also mean having to be dependent on others for assistance. “

According to World Bank statistics, people with disabilities account for one in five of the world’s poorest. Of this total, only two per cent of disabled children in developing countries receive an education and a recent World Bank study indicated that disability is a bigger barrier to school participation than gender and household economic status.

At the same time, research commissioned for the UN World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled People suggests that 350 million people with disabilities live in areas where essential services such as transport needed to help them are not available.

Accessibility is a critical part in the inclusion of persons with disabilities and an accessible barrier-free environment is the first step towards meeting the rights of disabled persons to participate in all aspects of community life.

During his speech, Y.B. Chow Kon Yeow, Penang State Executive Councillor for Government, Traffic Management and Environment underscored the state government’s support for the project.
“The State Government is committed to the principles of non-discrimination and social inclusion for persons with disabilities. Accessible public transport, within the framework of an overall integrated transport policy is fundamentally important to delivering that commitment. “

 “The overarching goal is to promote the concept of universal design in public transportation, which implies equal opportunity for use by individuals with or without disability,” he said, adding that the output of the study would be an integral part of the state’s plans to improve the public transportation system in the coming years.

 “Having cheaper fares for PWDs is meaningless if you cannot get your wheelchair through the door. It is most important to recognize that providing for disabled persons and the elderly does not mean making separate and costly arrangements. It means providing better for everyone.

“Design and service improvements to help PWDs and the elderly will almost invariably assist other users, including pregnant women, parents with infants, people of size and even people who are burdened with heavy shopping bags.

“Public transport should be affordable but it must also be designed, built and managed around the principles of ‘accessibility’ as well as affordability if it is to serve all segments of the Malaysian public effectively. The findings of the audit will fast track us towards this vision.”

In 2006 official figures, there are 197,519 disabled persons in Malaysia who have registered with the Department of Social Welfare and 12,481 for the State of Penang.
However, the United Nations believes that the figure could be higher, estimating that approximately six to 10% of the population in developing countries having disabilities, which roughly translates to about 2.7 million disabled people in Malaysia, excluding senior citizens who become disabled due to illness and aging.

The event also featured a presentation by Judy Wee, who is the main consultant for the access audit, on Singapore’s experience in improving accessibility as well as a forum with the state’s main public transportation providers on key issues related to accessibility to the built environment and public transport.

The event closed with a workshop for key stakeholders which highlighted international best practices in providing accessible public transport services for persons with disabilities.

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