NSW public transport hazards for aged commuters

Automatic boom gates that shut too quickly, fast set downs on trains and buses and slippery platforms are among the major hazards confronting older and less mobile commuters.


The National Roads & Motorists’ Association's (NRMA’s) Making Public Transport More Accessible audit comprised 21 trips using four different modes of public transport and interviews with 38 commuters. Train trips were taken on 12 major lines in Sydney, outer suburbs and to nearby regional centres. There were five bus trips and two each by ferry and light rail.


The audit was conducted to identify major hazards for older Australians using public transport and to provide advice to the NSW Government about what steps could be taken to ensure public transport facilities can meet the needs of the state's growing and ageing population.


Trips were made on major urban and inter-city routes by train, bus, ferry and light rail at all hours throughout the day during the week and weekends to destinations including the workplace, schools, healthcare facilities and recreational venues.


Major potential hazards identified in the public transport report included:

  • Platforms, rails and stairs that are open to rain at major rail stations including Central station

  • Garbled or non-existent on-board announcements

  • Poor shelter and not enough seats at bus stops

  • Too rapid set down times when trains and buses pull up at platforms.

Older commuters also pointed out that school bags are left in aisles during school travel times, making it difficult to navigate on and off buses and trains.


NRMA President Kyle Loades said the physical audit was conducted to highlight the very real challenges older and less mobile commuters faced every day and the simple measures that the NSW Government could adopt to make public transport more user-friendly for older Australians.


“Our population is ageing and living longer – this means that there will be a greater reliance on public transport to keep our older demographic mobile and socially engaged,” Mr Loades said.


“The NRMA’s audit identified some of the real challenges older Australians face when using public transport. For example, when conducting an audit of Central Station we witnessed an automatic boom gate slam shut on an older commuter – she was trapped in the gate and had to be rescued.


“As the population ages, these problems will become more accentuated.


“There are simple measures that the NSW Government can adopt and the NRMA looks forward to working with them on making our public transport system more user-friendly.”


Key recommendations to the State Government:

  • Review the speed of automatic boom gates

  • Increase set down times for trains

  • Ensure that slip resistant coating is applied to platforms and stairs

  • Replace stainless steel hand rails with firm grip rails

  • Provide shelters and increase seating at all bus stops

  • Ensure on-board announcements are clear

  • Undertake a public transport courtesy campaign to educate school age passengers

  • Provide priority boarding on ferries for people with limited mobility

Light rail fared best in the review, with only Glebe station deemed difficult to reach due to steep steps.


“We’re living longer and we’re being told that we’ll have to work longer,” Mr Loades said.


“Public transport must be adapted to the needs of its users.”


While the NRMA called on the NSW State Government to implement a number of simple fixes, commuters themselves can help, not least the youngest.


“Prior to 9am and after 3:00pm aisles are impassable for school bags, so we want school children to take care when they put their bags down,” Mr Loades said.


“Naturally, we are also encouraging younger, more able people to stand up and give up their seats for older commuters – its good Karma!”


7 April 2015.