Train seats for disabled but no cheap fares

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 November, 2011, 12:00am


The Ministry of Railways has promised to reserve at least five seats on each train for disabled passengers amid heightened calls for disabled-friendly facilities on public transport.

However, it rejected an appeal from 10 National People's Congress deputies for half-price tickets for the disabled.

Quoting ministry officials, The Beijing News reported yesterday that the seat scheme would be introduced before the end of this month. The ministry has also ordered that train carriages and major railway stations be refitted over the next two or three years to make facilities easier for the disabled to use.

Discrimination towards the disabled was highlighted by a report from a non-government organisation, the Equity and Justice Initiative, earlier this month that revealed that more than half the mainland's 24 airlines have rules saying staff may refuse to allow disabled passengers to board if they felt they could offend other passengers or make them feel uncomfortable.

Zhu Lanying, a 26-year-old paraplegic, said she was refused permission to board a plane at Kunming airport last month, apparently because of her disability.

The 10 deputies tabled a proposal to the NPC in March asking for the introduction of half-price train tickets for the disabled, most of whom struggle financially.

However, the ministry replied last month that it could not cut fares because a price freeze imposed by the central government since 1995 meant it could hardly break even and that train fares were low compared to those charged by long-haul bus operators and airlines.

The ministry also said it had been putting disabled-friendly facilities in service since 2005 and most high-speed and fast trains have been revamped, including toilets for the disabled. These facilities have yet to appear on ordinary trains.

The ministry's rejection of the discount proposal was dismissed by many disabled as an attempt to 'feign poverty' because it was an open secret that ministry employees and their families received discounts and free train tickets.

Xia Wentao, a 24-year-old disabled rights campaigner from Shangrao, Jiangxi, who urged the NPC deputies to call for the discount, said he was disappointed by the ministry's decision.

'But we will continue to push other government departments for the discount as the Ministry of Railways said it has no control over ticket pricing,' said Xia, who has a crippled right leg as a result of polio he suffered as a child.

A frequent train traveller, he said he has collected more than 2,000 signatures from disabled people since April last year supporting fare discounts.

Wang Jinlei, a 22-year-old paraplegic from Zhengzhou, Henan, who staged a highly publicised campaign against the ministry in May over the lack of special toilets on ordinary trains, said it was beginning to listen but more needed to be done.

'Even a smaller discount or one-off discount on special occasions such as World Disabled Day [on December 3] would be a goodwill gesture to help cultivate compassion in the rest of the community towards disadvantaged people,' he said.


The reported number of disabled on the mainland

- Eight mainland airlines say disabled passengers need permits to fly