Back in February 2009, I wrote to the New Zealand Minister of Transport to complain about a couple of disability/accessibility related issues. I finally just received a "proper" response from the Minister, although I think the answer is a cop-out, and a brush-off.
I attended an event in Warkworth in mid-February. On my way back, I used the new Northern Gateway Toll Road and was unable to pay the toll because the manual toll station didn’t have a parking space I could use, there were no curb cuts, and even if the first two issues had been addressed, the touch screen on the payment machine is too high to reach from a wheelchair. This was a brand new facility, and these three aspects breached the NZ Building Code.
I wrote to Hon. Steven Joyce, our Minister of Transport to raise the issues with him, and ask him how such a gross oversight could happen, when things would be fixed, and how they would be fixed. The letter went out on 26 February, with a CC to the Minister for Disabilities Issues, to the Rodney District Council (who had to approve the plans), to the ICT Branch of State Services Commission (e-guidelines), to Tollroad NZ (in charge of the actual Toll Road), and to the Human Rights Commission.
I received a brief note from the Minister’s office saying the letter was in front of him. I also heard back from the Human Rights Commission wanting to know if I wished to file a complaint, which I didn’t at the time. As I hadn’t heard back from the Minister in early April, I sent a follow-up letter asking if there had been any news on these issues. At the end of April I received another letter from the Minister’s office saying the letter had "been blaced before the Minister for his consideration and you may expect a reply in due course".
In other words -"shut up, you’re not a priority, and he’ll get back to you when he gets to it". Which is fair enough, a Minister has many important issues to deal with. It does kind of irk though that disability access is seen as a low-priority item on the agenda.
Finally, early this week I received a response from the Minister. The letter is dated 2nd July 2009. Below is a copy of the letter. At the end of the blog is a re-typed version of the letter.
The payment station was not accessible because it wasn’t ready yet. It was opened early for a holiday. Hmmm. Ok. My memory of the site, along with the photos I took point to either very recent completion, or still some work to do. I’ll buy that it may not have been ready at the time, although it didn’t *look* like appropriate parking and curb cuts were planned.
That still doesn’t explain why the accessibility of the payment kiosks wasn’t taken into account *before* installing them. It’s fine that the NZTA’s engineers are investigating, but it’s a little bit like closing the barn door after the horses have bolted. It’s too little, too late.
To sum it all up, this response, more than 4 months in the making, feels like a brush-off and isn’t particularly satisfying. I should be glad for small victories, such as the addition of an appropriate parking space and curb cuts. Still, it very much looks like #FAIL to me.
02 Jul 2009
Mr Nicolas Steenhout
I also apologise for the difficulties you experienced when using the manual payment station and the toll payment website.
The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) is responsible for administering the toll collection system.
The NZTA advises that the Titford’s Bridge manual payment site was not ready when the toll road was opened early for the Auckland Anniversary weekend. Since then, the NZTA has installed a wide disability car park and ramps up to the footpath. The NZTA’s engineers are also investigating ways to solve the problem of kiosk touch screens being too high for people with disabilities.
I hopt this reply has answered your queries. If you have any more questions about the toll system, please contact Mr Ewart Barnsley, the NZTA’s Tolling Communications Manager, on (XX) XXX-XXXX.
Thank you again for raising this matter with me.
Minister of Transport