BANGKOK — Some had no legs and propelled themselves along. Some were paralyzed and pushed by companions. A few zipped along under electric power.
All shared a purpose Friday morning when, by the dozens, wheelchair-bound citizens converged on the Civil Court on Ratchada Road to file a class-action lawsuit one year after it failed satisfy a court order to make its popular commuter rail service accessible.
“It’s not about winning or losing; we’re aiming for social impact,” said Theerayuth Sukonthavit, the leader of disabled activist rights group Transportation for All. “Last time everyone thought we’d won, but in reality, we still cannot use the BTS.”
Ninety-eight people signed onto the class action submitted Friday to the court clerk.
The lawsuit seeks 1,000 baht for each plaintiff for each day that has passed since the Jan. 21, 2016, court-ordered deadline for the work to be completed.
It comes more than two years after a landmark Supreme Court ruling that all stations along the BTS Skytrain’s two lines must be wheelchair-accessible.
The court gave the city one year to complete the work, but City Hall and its contractor dithered, making little progress despite regular apologies and assurances it would soon be done.
Representatives from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, or BMA, and Seri Construction have said they faced difficulties with land-rights issues and scheduling workers.
Some work has been completed at the stations, but only in fits and starts, without one of the promised lifts going into operation.
Theerayuth disputed those reasons, saying Seri Construction had its budget on the elevators and now could not afford to finish the installation.
Seri’s project manager contradicted that Friday, saying the money spent to acquire and store the elevators was not a significant cost to slow the project.
Itthiphol Boonrak insisted the obstacles are the limited working hours and difficulty integrating with the stations’ existing electrical systems.
The BMA official responsible for the project, Prapas Luangsirinapha, said Wednesday that disabled commuters can ask security guards at the stations to help carry them up to the platform. He also said he did not believe they had suffered any damages by the lack of accessibility.
The head of the disabled rights group said it is dangerous to involve the contracted security guards because they are not trained to care for wheelchair users.
Theerayuth said the problem is that the law can be a paper tiger.
“The problem about the law in our country is that there is no punishment,” he said. “The most the Administrative Court can do is only send an inquiry to City Hall, which we think is not enough.”
The class-action lawsuit is the second filed since they became possible in 2015. Only one has reached the courts before, a 500 million baht suit brought in May against an Australian gold mining company by residents in central Thailand.
Joining the kilometer-long rally was Jerome Thibaut, a 33-year old Frenchman who lives in Hua Hin.
He said it was nearly impossible for wheelchair users in Thailand to live without their own car.
“If you have to use BTS or MRT, you have to check which station you can use,” he said. “This is why we try to change it, because the wheelchair people should be able to go anywhere like common people who can walk.”