BANGKOK — The BTS Skytrain remains inaccessible to all commuters four years after a historic legal victory for disability activists.
Activist Manit Inpim this week accused the city of failing to do its job, saying he is unaware of any progress since 256 million baht was approved nearly eight months ago for construction of elevators at all exits of every station.
“I haven’t seen the latest situation, but I believe the installation is still not done,” he said this past week. Monday will mark five years since the Supreme Administrative Court gave the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, or BMA, a one-year deadline to make stations throughout the elevated rail system accessible to commuters with disabilities.
Since then, years of inaction and delays have raised doubts about the BMA’s intent to comply with the court order and led the original litigants to go back to the courts.
Panurak Klannurak, the BMA’s newly appointed transport director, said by phone this week that they still haven’t found a contractor to do the work, and he doesn’t know when they will.
In May, the city promised the new elevators would be ready within four months of finding a contractor.
Every year since 2015, Khaosod English has checked in on the anniversary of the landmark 2015 court ruling. In 2016, city officials blamed infrastructure issues for missing the deadline but promised all work would be done that September. When 2017 began with no progress and more vague assurances, disability activists filed one of the kingdom’s first class-action lawsuits, which sought large compensatory damages. The lawsuit stalled, but by this time last year, nearly every station had at least one lift. It still fell short of the original high court ruling that the system be made accessible, as many elevators only connected one side of the street.
This past year has not been more encouraging to their cause.
Manit, who uses a wheelchair, shattered a glass elevator door at BTS Asok in March in a fit of rage after he was denied its use without filling out paperwork. A court-ordered joint-inspection of the rail network was carried out as part of the litigation, and the funds were approved for the additional elevators.
And going forward, it’s unclear the city will do better. When a new BTS extension to Samut Prakan opened last month, it didn’t take long for the public to be baffled by a wheelchair ramp at BTS Sai Luat that led to a ditch filled with weeds and rubbish.
Pakapong Sirikantaramas, the Mass Rapid Transit Authority governor, said in a phone interview Wednesday that the authority had talked to the owner of the land beside the elevator and had begun work expanding the ramp.
Manit said he doesn’t understand why the city continues to let such problems happen. He said his network inspected the construction work and submitted written suggestions to the authority six months before it opened.
“Why does BMA have to turn very simple things into something so complicated? This is how the people are thinking of them,” he said. “We’ve done enough work. Now it’s their responsibility to complete the work as promised. BMA has to act as an employer. It should take measures to accelerate the process.”
Ongoing efforts to force compliance by going back to the courts have stalled as well.
After winning administrative delays of the class action suit filed two years ago, the BMA convinced the civil court it should be heard in the administrative court, according attorney Sonthipong Mongkolsawas, who represents the plaintiffs. The case was dropped after the administrative court ruled it was not a venue for class actions.
About 430 commuters with disabilities responded by jointly suing the BMA in the administrative court for the same damages in a case that is ongoing.
On another front, Manit and five other activists sued the MRT subway in November over its lack of accessibility, demanding 16.8 million baht in compensation.