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Gov't mulls ordinance requiring 2 or more wheelchair spaces per train

In this file photo, a student of a special needs school is lowered from a subway train car while checking the distance to the platform in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on Aug. 25, 2016. From April 2020, the amount of space allotted for wheelchairs per train is expected to be increased. (Mainichi)

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure Transport and Tourism (MLIT) has solidified plans to revise a ministry ordinance to require all trains to be introduced from fiscal 2020 onward to have at least two wheelchair spaces per train, it has been learned.

According to the MLIT, trains are currently required by the ministry ordinance to have one or more wheelchair spaces per train based on the 2006 Act on Promotion of Smooth Transportation, etc. of Elderly Persons, Disabled Persons, etc. However, with the number of foreign visitors expected to rise leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the revised ordinance requiring two or more spaces is planned to be issued this fiscal year in hopes to increase convenience for wheelchair-users.

In addition to requiring at least two wheelchair spaces per train to be introduced from April 2020, including Shinkansen bullet trains, the new order will also request that a wide enough space for wheelchair users to move smoothly be guaranteed along with the installation of railings and signage confirming the intended use for the spaces. However, trains with three cars or less are exceptions to the rule and will still only be required to have one or more wheelchair spaces. The definition of a single space, unrelated to the transport ministry ordinance, will be set at a length of 130 centimeters or more and a width of at least 75 centimeters.

On the other hand, the barrier-free facility guidelines created by the transport ministry and referenced by railway companies calls for train operators to strive for even higher goals. In addition to having one or more wheelchair spaces in all vehicles of regular trains, it is suggested that the Shinkansen first class "green cars" also be made accessible for wheelchair users along with current accommodations for regular reserved seating cars.

Marking 10 years since the law came into effect, from October 2016, the transport ministry aimed to raise the level of barrier free efforts in train station facilities and public spaces to create an environment where the elderly and people with disabilities can safely travel and other measures as its legacy for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

An investigative committee composed of advocacy groups for people with disabilities and other experts has reviewed the ordinance and other relevant rules. With only one wheelchair space per train, the committee argued that getting to use the space can turn into a competition, and if the number of spaces in trains is increased, it can also benefit parents with baby carriages and travelers with luggage.

"We considered the content (of the ordinance) based on the opinions of wheelchair users," said a representative of the MLIT's Poli cy Division for Universal Design. "Moving forward, we will collect public opinion and make the proper revisions to the ministry ordinance."

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