Update: By Friday night, the elevators working at BTS Phrom Phong were working. By Saturday, one was closed again.
BANGKOK — Over two years after the Supreme Court ordered the BTS Skytrain be made accessible to the disabled, City Hall announced on Friday that elevators had been added to four of the original 19 stations – though several were still unusable as the announcement was being made.
In his comments, the governor of Bangkok made no mention of the class-action lawsuit filed in January by disabled activists as he announced the completion of elevators at BTS Ratchadamri, Phrom Phong, Thong Lo and On Nut. The appointed Governor promised that the other 15 stations would be fully equipped by the end of the year.
However, while the news conference was underway at BTS Ratchadamri, Khaosod English reporters visited the three other stations and found the elevators lit and open – but unable to use.
No apology was given for failing to meet the court-ordered deadline and subsequent revised deadlines to make the service accessible, but Gov. Aswin Kwanmuang did express some empathy when a reporter asked about the lawsuit.
“If I were them, I would sue too,” Aswin said, adding that he has sought to hasten the project since he was appointed by the junta to replace elected Gov. Sukhumbhand Paribatra in October.
Less Than Perfect
Access to the elevators at the three other stations – Phrom Phong, Thong Lo and On Nut – were blocked Friday morning by signs reading “Construction Area.” Aswin said staff there were waiting for him to officially announce the opening and promised they would surely be usable some time on Friday.
After the governor left, a disabled activist tried to use the lifts at BTS Ratchadmri and found the one leading up to the Siam-bound platform was broken.
It was a landmark ruling in January 2015 when the Supreme Court ordered the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, or BMA, to make its Skytrain disabled-friendly in one year’s time.
Since then, the city has consistently failed to satisfy the order. The developer it hired, Seri Construction, blamed problems on land ownership and complications with underground infrastructure.
Activist group Transportation For All launched a class-action lawsuit on Jan. 21 that asked the court to fine the city 1,000 baht for each plaintiff to join the suit for each day since the court’s original Jan. 21, 2016, deadline for the work to be completed.
A member of the activist group said they were happy the project has finally seen some progress, but said the suit would move forward.
“Because by the law, we have no right to track the project,” said Manit Inpim. “So in order to do that, we have to use the only rights we have under the law, which is to sue.”
Gov. Aswin on Friday promised that he would push for construction delays not to extend past the end of this year, except at BTS Saphan Taksin, which has a platform expansion planned. If things go as promised, it would mean the city took three years to install the elevators.
Having worked closely with City Hall for more two years, Manit said he was pleased to see it happening.
“This is a great sign. We are pleased,” he said. “We have been waiting a long time,so we can definitely wait a bit longer.”
Manit was present despite the city not extending invitations to the disabled activists for Friday’s news conference. Appearing, however, was Channel 3 and Nation reporter Krisana Lalai, who is a wheelchair user.
Despite not being part of the long campaign pushing for BTS accessibility, Krisana posed for photos testing the elevators and offered his gratitude to Gov. Aswin and the military government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha for their efforts.
Additional reporting Chayanit Itthipongmaetee, Todd Ruiz and Lobsang Dundup Sherpa Subirana