On Jan 20, a large group of wheelchair-bound citizens converged on Bangkok’s Civil Court to file a class-action lawsuit against the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) after it failed to make good on a court order to build elevators at 23 BTS stations by the end of August last year. Here, we talk with IT consultant Manit Intharapim, 49, the Director of the Accessibility is Freedom working group and member of the Transportation for All network, which are the main forces fighting for more accessible transportation.
What was the final straw for filing the lawsuit?
It has been two years since the Supreme Administrative Court ordered the BMA, its governor and Public Works Department, as well as the BTS to build 23 elevators to assist disabled people. But not only is construction not finished, it’s not even in progress. So, we felt it necessary to pressure them into finishing the job they have promised.
Who is actually responsible for building the elevator: the BTS or BMA?
The BTS, which belongs to the BMA. That’s why we decided to sue the BMA for compensation as a result of the delayed construction. But to be honest, we don’t want money. We just want the elevators to be built so they can benefit everybody.
How has the BMA reacted to the lawsuit?
Bangkok Deputy Governor Amnuay Nimmano made a statement to reporters that the BMA will finish all construction by the end of this year. He also mentioned that three or four elevators are nearly done and will be ready within three months. But it’s like a broken record; we’ve heard this all before. Last year, another deputy governor told us construction would soon be finished.
What’s taking them so long?
They keep saying that it’s because they have to work with so many different departments, as well as unforeseen problems like the discovery of electricity wires or pipelines that bar construction. I personally feel it’s just down to the unprofessionalism of both the BMA and contractors. This is a B350 million, national-level project. How come the contractors can’t finish their work on time, and how come the BMA has no measures to force the contractors to get the work done?
What do you think about the expansion of the mass rapid train system as a whole?
I monitor all the developments. The critical problem is that those who oversee these projects don’t understand the grim reality faced by disabled people. They see it as wasting their budget to build facilities for the disabled. Take the Purple Line, for example, they have four exits at each station but only installed two elevators, one on each side of the road. The distance between each exit on the same side of the road is 800-900 meters. That’s a long distance. But the reality is disabled people can’t even reach those elevators due to the poor condition of the footpaths. I even did a calculation. If they installed four elevators at each station along the Purple Line that would only account for two percent of the project’s total B107 billion budget. That’s less than what they paid the project consultant companies. And in the next 6-10 years, there will be another 10 mass rapid train lines with these accessibility problems. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.
What do you hope to see in the future?
We’re just calling for freedom of accessibility to give more people a better chance at getting an education and employment. It’s more than just equal rights for commuting. You never know, someday you may get in an accident, or simply have your mobility reduced due to age. We need better transportation for everyone.