Railway operators are accelerating efforts to allow people in wheelchairs to take a train without the help of station staff members.
They are working to reduce vertical steps between train floors and platforms and horizontal gaps between trains and platforms so that wheelchair users can get on and off trains by themselves.
Many railway operators started such renovations in earnest after the transport ministry set barrier-free standards for steps and gaps, partly to prepare for the Tokyo Paralympics, which will kick off on Tuesday.
Changes of a few centimeters can allow people with reduced mobility to travel freely.
For a wheelchair user to get on and off a train without other people’s help, the height of a platform section in front of a train car door should be raised by a slope. Also, a rubber device should be installed to narrow gaps between trains and platforms.
Okinawa Urban Monorail Inc. and Osaka Metro Co. were the first to take such barrier-free measures.
In 2018, the transport ministry conducted a test involving 23 wheelchair users.
After analyzing the test results, it set a vertical step of 3 cm and a horizontal gap of 7 cm as barrier-free standards for straight platforms with concrete-bed railway tracks.
Of 1,290 stations with such platforms and tracks across the country, those with at least one platform section that meets the ministry’s standards came to 623 as of October 2020.
In June this year, the platforms of Central Japan Railway Co.’s Tokaido Shinkansen line at Tokyo Station were revamped to satisfy the standards.
Satoshi Sato, secretary-general of the Japan National Assembly of Disabled Peoples’ International, hailed the moves. “People in wheelchairs are now able to get on and off a train without waiting for help from station staff members and to change their travel plans while riding a train,” he said.
Also in June, the Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation added information on vertical steps and horizontal gaps at stations across Japan on its website sharing information related to barrier-free functions at train stations. Users can check where they should go to take a train from a platform section that complies with the standards.
Around summer 2020, East Japan Railway Co. started painting in pink platform sections and trains doors that met the standards in order to make it easy for people to find barrier-free boarding areas.
Tokyo Metro Co. and Tokyu Corp. followed suit after a request from the transport ministry.
The measure “makes it easier for people without disabilities to tell where barrier-free areas are,” a ministry official said. “We want them to be considerate to people with reduced mobility and make room (for disabled people) around barrier-free areas.”
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