Sanctus – Infrastructure Secretary Josephine Chari-Jones today unveiled what she called “Phase 1” of her free public transport plans, announcing that from January 1st next year people in receipt of disability allowance from the federal government will have free travel on all modes of transport operated by Sanctaria Rail. Chari-Jones also declared that by the end of 2026, all train stations and trains will be “independently accessibly by those with disabilities”.
Speaking at the Sanctus Main Station, formerly called the Patriarch Thomas IX Memorial Train Station, Chari-Jones said that the federal government would be directing Sanctarian Rail, which is wholly owned by the government, to no longer charge individuals who receive disability allowance for use of their trains and, in Sanctus, the street trams. “We are working with the state governments who are responsible for transport options within their state, so trams and buses typically, to make those options available free-of-charge for disabled individuals too – obviously any rail option is completely federalised so no matter where they are in the country, from January 1st, people with disabilities will be able to use any train and any state underground rail service for free”, Chari-Jones said. All states have localised underground rail services, usually in the bigger urban metropolises, but these rail services remain under the operation of Sanctaria Rail and under the federal purview.
“This is just phase one”, Chari-Jones explained to reporters, saying that she hopes that all transport services currently operated by the federal government, or a federal entity, will be free to use by all citizens by the time the DLP-Green coalition’s term in office ends. “In terms of state transport services, if they’re licensed to Sanctaria Rail, then they will be covered by our plans. Currently this includes the tram and bus services in Sanctus.” She went on to say that officials in her department would be meeting with representatives of the different states’ transport ministries, or equivalent, to roll out the benefit to local bus and light rail or tram routes there too. When asked how her plans would fare if state government resisted, Chari-Jones said that “the federal parliament by legislation devolved these matters to state governments, federal legislation remains the superior law, and state law cannot clash with that. If state governments don’t engage with us in good faith, we can legislate around that and, in extreme circumstances if necessary, remove the devolved transport powers.”
Part of the work around her “phase one” includes upgrading all trains states in the country to ensure “barrier-free” access, where such stations already do not have this. “The Cox government in the 90s did a lot of work with regards to station upgrades for people with physical disabilities, my department is planning to maintain that and upgrade stations that aren’t already barrier-free”, she explained. Sanctaria Rail has also been directed to make changes to its fleet, and buy new where necessary, to ensure people with physical disabilities, such as those in wheelchairs, are able to board by themselves “independently”. Chari-Jones also said she wants to see “at least four wheelchair accessible spaces” in each carriage, saying the current situation where trains may only have one or two across all carriages was “unsustainable”.
Answering journalists’ questions today, Chari-Jones said the upgrades to stations and vehicle modifications had already been factored into the budget “as these are done every five to ten years anyway”, and that she anticipates that the free transport for disabled individuals will have a “negligible impact” on the finances of Sanctaria Rail.
SOULLA WILDE, Political Correspondent