BANGKOK — Commuters with disabilities received a major legal blow Monday as a court ruled City Hall did not violate their rights by not making the BTS Skytrain accessible within a court-order deadline.
Activists said they would appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court after the Administrative Court acquitted the administration by saying the years-long delay in construction of the rail network’s elevators and fixing other accessibility issues weren’t caused by negligence.
“City Hall has the power, the authority to move things forward, but no regulations have been issued. We see this as being negligent,” said attorney Sonthipong Mongkolsawas, who represents the plaintiffs.
The court said the plaintiffs could appeal within 30 days, and Sonthipong voiced confidence in moving the case forward.
“Almost all issues in the past have been settled. The only thing left is to prove the city’s inaction,” he said. “We will appeal this, and will also ask the court to rule on the compensation.”
More than 400 commuters with disabilities sued City Hall with the Administrative Court for 1.4 billion baht in May last year after the civil court rejected their class-action lawsuit against the administration. The case cited repeated delays and inaction as little improvement has been achieved after the supreme court in 2015 gave City Hall one year to make the city rail network accessible to disabled commuters.
In the ruling, the court said that although the delay had been excessive, it didn’t believe City Hall neglected its duty.
“Although the elevator constructions … have been excessively delayed, there have also been genuine obstacles barring it from completing the work, not with the intention of causing damage to the plaintiffs,” the ruling said.
The court also said City Hall had regularly reported its progress on the construction, suggesting it hadn’t been ignoring the work.
After hearing the court rule, activist Manit Inpim expressed disappointment.
“I expected the court to try and find a compromise for both sides, but not that the whole case would be dismissed like this,” he said.
Theerayut Sukonthawit, another wheelchair user and leading activist, said he would like the case to help set a new standard so that younger generations of disabled people won’t have to go through what they have.
“I don’t want our children to have to keep suing the authorities like this. If they do the work right from the beginning, the problem won’t drag on to this point,” he said. “We don’t want to keep coming to sue every rail line when the construction is complete. This shouldn’t have happened.”
Theerayut said they would prove whether the reports City Hall made on the work’s progress came before or after activists drew attention to the matter.
“If they didn’t intend to neglect the work, they wouldn’t use the issue of court jurisdiction to delay the case for years,” he said.
In 2017, the city administration challenged the original civil case didn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Civil Court, as plaintiffs sued it on the grounds of basic rights violations. After the case was transferred, the Administrative Court said it’s not a venue for a class-action lawsuit.
Little has been achieved during while the legal case stalled. According to activist network Accessibility is Freedom, only five BTS stations had sufficient elevators as of February, and no station was 100 percent accessible. The issues included elevators being locked, sidewalks being too narrow, and gaps between trains and platforms being too wide.
Eight months after funds were approved, City Hall in February said it would find a contractor by the end of this month to build an additional 19 elevators in 16 BTS stations, which it said would take about 300 days.