Melbourne’s old W-class trams are an icon of our city. They are loved by many people around the world. But some Melburnians argue they are uncomfortable, noisy and slow. They do not have air conditioning. It means they can be hot in summer and cold in winter. Worse still, they are inaccessible to many people with a disability.
The previous Victorian Government promised to remove the aging W-class fleet from circulation. The only W-class trams that were to remain were the 12 free city circle trams.
Restoring the trams
Now the new Victorian Government is promising up to $8 million to restore W-class trams. Department of Transport spokesperson Julie McNamara says the trams will be restored to
near original condition but include modifications.
Ms McNamara says the government will work with Yarra Trams to try to improve access for people with a disability. Routes to be considered for W-class trams include South Melbourne, St Kilda, Prahran, Brunswick and Coburg.
The National Trust supports the retention of W-class trams on routes like Prahran and St Kilda. The Trust believes the trams have significant heritage value.
The trams were first introduced to Melbourne in the 1930s. They are strongly connected to Melbourne’s image. Melbourne is the only city in Australia that still has an extensive tram network. The Trust is also concerned about sales of W-class trams to cities like Milan and San Francisco. They believe just retaining the old trams on the city circle is not sufficient.
The major accessibility problem with W-class trams is the steps that people need to climb to board the tram. New low-floor trams and super stops enable people who use wheelchairs and scooters to easily board the tram. But W-class trams do not meet modern access standards.
It has been suggested that hoists could be fitted to W-class trams to improve accessibility. The hoists could lift people in wheelchairs into the tram. But some people claim that using a hoist would be embarrassing and slow.
End the apartheid
Frank Hall-Bentick has advocated for the rights of people with a disability for decades. He says there is
no reason to continue the apartheid where one group of people can use (the trams) and the other can’t.
Let’s end that, Mr Hall-Bentick says.
The solution is to make them accessible.
Mr Hall-Bentick says low-floor trams and raised tram stops are the best option for people with a disability. But he supports the use of hoists to make old trams more accessible. He says people who argue against hoists are
probably throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Mr Hall-Bentick says people successfully use hoists overseas. He does not see the time taken to use a hoist as significantly holding up traffic. He adds that they are already used in large taxis.
Mr Hall-Bentick says accessible stops should also be constructed on lines that use W-class trams. There should be stops at the ends and key points along the routes. Mr Hall-Bentick says this should include the city circle tourist route.
People with disability can be tourists too. They should be able to enjoy sights experienced by others.
Meyer Eidelson is the equity and access coordinator at Action on Disability in Ethnic Communities. He says many of his members value heritage. He says W-class trams have a place in an expanded fleet.
We need more trams, Mr Eidelson says.
We need more of them and we need them to be accessible. He says more trams would ensure less over-crowding.
Do you think Melbourne’s W-class trams should be retained? Let us know in the comments section below.