Australia has had a national disability act for decades. Commonwealth Government’s Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (2002). It entitles those with disabilities to the same level of services as all Australian citizens. There are no exceptions, though as most of us know the world is slow to follow up on what is needed to make life easier for those with disabilities. Australia is no exception, but slowly things are improving. Regardless of government, Aussies are very egalitarian, approachable and friendly. They are always willing to help with directions, assistance or advice.
Australia, like the USA and Canada, has states, each with its presiding government and each with a unique way of dealing with transport. Some states are very progressive regarding access (South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia for example) whilst the two most famous cities, Sydney and Melbourne, lack somewhat. You can get a great latte in Melbourne if you can get into the coffee shop!
Apart from the capital cities, major country centres have reasonable transport, though it pays to check local websites for access initiatives. It is a horrible feeling to arrive at a destination only to find one cannot get around. Remember, Australia is a vast empty continent with most of the population living in the coastal capitals. Country folk with disabilities often move to major centres because services are lacking in rural areas. This often leads to problems for visitors with disabilities. Research everything on the web and travel blogs before you go. One also should remember that in the outback, not only are transport services limited, but so are health and emergency medical services.
Australia is famous for its flying ambulance, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, but be aware these aircraft and medics are not just sitting around waiting for something to happen. It often takes hours to reach an ill or injured person and the service is expensive. One can obtain travel insurance to cover the use of the service.
Arriving in Oz from overseas is usually by jet. Airports are all wheelchair accessible and transport services are readily available. The Sydney and Brisbane Airports have Airport Link & Air Train, which is cheap-ish and readily accessible. Both services link to the regular suburban rail and bus networks.
In other cities, the best way to transfer from the airport if you are wheelchair-bound is by maxi taxi (WAT/MPT). It can be expensive though if you are travelling a long distance from the airport. Most Australian capital city airports are very close to the city centres except for Melbourne. Darwin, Sydney and Perth airports are literally less than 30 minutes from the city centre depending on the time of day, so if you are staying in the city the expense is not great. All major airports have websites complete with transport and access information.
Town Cars + Private Transportation
All cities have town car and limo chauffer services which are relatively inexpensive. Most charge a minimum fare regardless of distance, something like $75 per hour. Price may be higher for longer trips or special types of vehicles. Websites abound in each state. For business people, it often pays to use the larger reputable services. These companies rarely provide wheelchair access vehicles.
UBER operates unlawfully in Australia and passengers are not offered the protection, security or insurance of other hire and public transport services.
All capital cities bar Darwin have an urban rail network. Brisbane’s urban rail network is fantastic for those in wheelchairs and every train has a conductor to assist at platforms, a rarity in this day and age but a lovely old-fashioned touch. If one is flying into Brisbane to visit the Gold Coast/Surfers Paradise, one can travel directly from the airport on the Air Train.
Sydney, one of Australia’s oldest cities is not always wheelchair friendly, but efforts have been made in recent times to improve access. The metro rail network is vast and cheap.
Perth’s rail network mostly serves residential suburbs, though the rail ride to the adjacent city of Fremantle (the world’s cleanest port) is great and Freo (as the locals call it) is worth a day’s visit. Fremantle is relatively flat and very easy to get around. At the other end of the network is Guildford, a historic village that is older than the capital itself.
Melbourne has trams. Melbourne is world famous for its trams. Wheelchair access is not a problem, though it can be a little disturbing waiting in the middle of a busy street for a tram!!! In Melbourne, they still operate the classic trams on some routes, and there is also The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. These glossy burgundy historical trams are the first travelling tramcar restaurants in the world. High-quality foods and wine are served in 5-star surroundings. Wheelchairs are not permitted on board, nor are walking frames. However, every effort is made to allow access and welcome you on board.
Adelaide, the Gold Coast and Sydney all have “single line” trams. Adelaide’s tram travels from the city to Glenelg, a famous beach suburb well worth the visit. In 1997, more than 30 years after trams disappeared from Sydney streets, trams were reintroduced in the form of a small light rail system between Central Station and Pyrmont. On the Gold Coast in Queensland, The first modern light rail system in Queensland opened in 2014. Running between Griffith University (Gold Coast campus) and Broad Beach via Southport and Surfers Paradise. The route forms a public transport spine on the Coast and connects with bus services along the route.
Perth has a historic tram service in Whiteman Park, 22km north of Perth City. The tram runs 4km of track. No wheelchair access due to the historic nature of these trams.
Nearly all urban public transit buses in Australian cities have the kneeling ability and ramps and these too are available at all airports. No pre-booking is required, simply wait at a bus stop. The city of Perth allows all passengers to travel FREE on any Transperth route bus within the city precinct, and they also have an easily identifiable free CAT service (Central Area Transit) in Perth and Fremantle. The purchase of a bus ticket in Perth usually allows two hours of travel on any associated transit service.
Sydney is famous for its harbour and its harbour ferries. A trip to Sydney is not a trip to Sydney if you don’t experience the Manly ferry. Brisbane also has commuter ferries (catamarans) and these are also access-friendly. The Brisbane City Cats are a marvellous way to see Brisbane from a river perspective. Ferries are also used to access Stradbroke Island, a popular weekend destination for the residents of Brisbane. The ferries are wheelchair friendly.
Perth has a cross-river ferry from the base of the city to South Perth, where the views back to the city are fantastic. This service is not wheelchair friendly. Perth also has the Rottnest Island ferry service, from the city and Fremantle. These are wheelchair friendly and well worth the trip over to this famed holiday island situated on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Leaving Perth city on one of these ultra-modern very fast boats is a bonus. The slow journey to Fremantle from Perth along the meandering Swan River is delightful on a sunny day. Upon reaching Fremantle, the ferry exits the harbour and travels at high speed for the 20-minute trip to Rottnest. Alternatively, departures can be made from Fremantle, reducing the travel time across to the island.
There are no cars on the island and shuttle buses serve various locations scattered across Rottnest. Wheelchair access is very good.
All major passenger shipping terminals have wheelchair access and assistance. Cruise liners are becoming very popular in Australia so facilities have all been upgraded over the last decade. Brisbane and Sydney have great harbour services, both being located almost in the centre of the city. Sydney Harbour is one of the most beautiful in the world and most liners dock adjacent to the famed Sydney Harbour Bridge. Perth is port less, the nearby historic city of Fremantle at the mouth of the Swan River being the main destination for cargo and cruise liners.
More Transportation in Australia Links
- VICTORIA, Melbourne: http://ptv.vic.gov.au and www.visitvictoria.com
- WESTERN AUSTRALIA, Perth: www.transperth.wa.gov.au
- SOUTH AUSTRALIA, Adelaide: www.adelaidemetro.com.au
- QUEENSLAND, Brisbane: www.brisbane.qld.gov.au
- TASMANIA, Hobart: www.metrotas.com.au
- NEW SOUTH WALES, Sydney: www.transportnsw.info
- NORTHERN TERRITORY, Darwin: www.transport.nt.gov.au