Kelly in the Media

Transport Solutions making it easier to get out and explore

Public transport puts Terri on road to independence Whether it be by bus, tram, train or taxi, there’s no stopping Terri Mak from getting out and about and exploring her city, writes REBECCA BAKER.

There are public transport users and public transport avoiders, those who think nothing of changing the bus several times on a single route and those who break into a cold sweat at the thought of hailing a driver roadside.

Given I fall firmly into the second category – and hyperventilate at the mere sight of a bus timetable – it’s a good thing my travelling companion for a day traversing suburban Adelaide via every mode imaginable has it mastered.

Clearview woman Terri Mak uses public transport most days, and it’s not unusual for her to catch the bus, tram and train all on the same day.

The 37-year-old was left a tetraplegic with a degree of paralysis in all four limbs – also referred to as a quadriplegic – in 2013 after a horror car accident on the Victoria Highway in the Northern Territory. Almost five years on, public transport is an integral part of her life, allowing her independence and freedom.

I scramble to keep up with her as she confidently steers me to the right bus and explains how to validate my ticket. “At first I was really nervous taking public transport but I just thought to myself, ‘If something happens, I can always call a taxi’,” says the Hong Kong born woman who has lived in Adelaide

“Before my accident, I was really active and social and that hasn’t changed. I like to explore and experience new things. If you don’t get out and about, your world can be very small.

Sometimes I will take a route I haven’t been on just to get out and see something new. I love the big windows in buses, trams and trains as I can see so much the houses, streets and sky. In a taxi, I can only see people’s shoes and the wheels.

“I’m not worried to go outside my comfort zone and will even go out at night by myself. My advice to others is to always have a plan B and a plan C … I have learnt to prepare for the worst and enjoy the best.”

Mak travels frequently from her inner northern suburb to Glenelg to go sailing, usually catching a couple of buses or a bus and tram each way. “The tram is probably my favourite as since her accident.

“For me, public transport offers me freedom and means I don’t have to rely on other people. I can go where I want, when I want to and don’t have to wait for someone else to take me,” she says, it is nice and new and very smooth. I also like the train but buses can be a bit rough at times, depending on the driver,” she says.

Her iPad is critical to her meticulous planning and she won’t go anywhere without it, as well as a spare charger in case it or her phone goes flat. “I’ll use Google Maps to get an idea of where I am going and then use the Adelaide Metro website to choose how I’ll travel. I like to look at real-time arrivals and can see from there if the next bus has wheelchair access,” she says.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost one in five (or 18 per cent) of South Australians lives with a disability. A spokeswoman for the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure says 90 per cent of Adelaide Metro buses now have wheelchair access and more are planned.

“As the fleet is updated, all new Adelaide Metro bus purchases are required to meet wheelchair access requirements. This number will continue to grow as the fleet grows and as older buses are replaced with new,” she says.

Mak says she’ll generally take a chance on getting an accessible-to-all bus at a stop unless she needs to be somewhere by a particular time. “If I have a medical appointment, I’ll always go in a cab but, if it is just something general, I will catch a bus but ring ahead to ensure I can get on in my wheelchair,” she says.

“Sometimes I will call the depot the day or sometimes just a few hours before I want to catch a bus and ask them to send one I can get on to. “Generally they are pretty good but one time I didn’t know which depot I needed to call and had to wait on hold for quite a long time, only to be told I had to ring a different depot.”

Mak says that, when possible, she avoids travelling during peak hour. “One time I had to wait at the bus stop for three buses before there was one that was suitable for wheelchairs,” she says.

Also, I’ve had a bus and a tram driver ask me to wait for the next service as theirs was too full, but they’ve let passengers not in wheelchairs on. It is a bit annoying and you can feel like you are less of a priority because you are in a wheelchair, but the good thing is it doesn’t happen very often. I think it would upset me if it did.”

Mak says her experiences on public transport vary, mainly depending on the driver. “Some bus drivers are very good and helpful and will welcome you with a big smile, make sure the seat is up so you can get into your spot and ask which stop you’re getting off at,” she says.

“Others aren’t so good and you have to ask them to help you. I’ve even had times when I have had to rely on other passengers, rather than the driver, to help me lift a seat so I can get my chair in.

It’s the same with taxi drivers. Some are very good and others aren’t Jian Wang from Adelaide Access Taxis is one of my favourites. Out of five stars, I’d rate him seven!”

On our trip from Glengowrie to Glenelg, we got lucky with bus driver Joseph Brettig, who couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming, or do more for us. “(In terms of those with restricted mobility), you’ve always got to think about how you position the bus when you park. I’ll try to get the wheel as close to the kerb as possible and make sure I don’t pull up where there are poles or posts that might make it more difficult for a passenger to get off,” he says.

“Sometimes a passenger may need a hand, such as a slight push, to get onto the ramp … it’s just about being aware and making sure they are OK.” Mak admits she does worry about what would happen if she was caught up in an emergency. She also worries about falling from her chair – she tells me, when in Hong Kong, a seatbelt is used to secure wheelchair passengers travelling on public transport.

“One time I was on a bus when a couple of passengers started fighting and that really frightened me. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to move or get out of their way if I needed to. The bus driver eventually got them off but the thought of not being able to escape if I needed to does worry me.”

And small oversights can create major obstacles when you are in a wheelchair. Take for example the City South tram stop. While Terri can exit the tram at this stop, there’s no ramp for her to get off the raised platform to the footpath. An out-of-reach, push-to-walk button means she needs to wait for someone to come and push it for her.

A sandy, slippery or rough footpath can stop her in her tracks. So, too, can a car carelessly parked across a footpath. A too steep ramp, if a bus isn’t correctly lowered, can be problematic, and even the metal lip on some foldaway ramps can be difficult to move across in a wheelchair.

Then there are the passengers who refuse to make way for her to get on or off a bus. Even well-meaning passengers who don’t listen to what she is saying can be unhelpful.

“Some people think everyone in a wheelchair is the same but we are not and sometimes a ‘helping hand’ isn’t really helpful. I know my wheelchair, I know my body situation, I know the conditions. I need people to listen to what I say if I ask for help … it’s my body, not my brain, I can’t use,” she says.

And there are things most don’t have to consider: A taxi can’t just pull up on the road to let her off. Terri needs to find a spot where she can get from the roadside up on to the footpath.

Dignity Party MLC Kelly Vincent makes the point that accessible-to-all transport is not something that benefits only a select few. “With our rapidly ageing population, and more people surviving accident and injury thanks to advancements in medical treatment, accessible facilities really are an investment in creating a society in which all people can live, work, travel, play, and spend money as they choose,” she says.

“Investing in things such as having 100 per cent of the fleet being able to kneel to the kerb, or technology to allow really clear audio announcements of upcoming stops for blind and vision impaired people, are small things that will save us a lot of money and time in the long term.”