Independent Living Institute

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Report of the Second International Expert Seminar
on Building Non-Handicapping Environments:
Renewal of Inner Cities

Prague, October 15-17, 1987

Download the Prague proceedings as a PDF file (420 KB)

Public Transportation Is for Everyone

Uwe Frehse, Committee on Mobility, City of Munich, West Germany


The present paper describes how persons with disabilities who use manual or power wheelchairs can achieve a high degree of self-determined mobility which is a condition for realizing a person’s right to participate in community life. There is a scarcity of studies based on first-hand experience on personal mobility of disabled persons. As a user of a motorized wheelchair myself I have collected the material presented here during study visits in the San Francisco Bay area and Scandinavia as well as in my practical work with the committee on mobility of disabled persons of the City of Munich.

The Municipal Committee on Mobility

Organized by the City of Munich according to basic democratic principles, the Municipal Committee on Mobility is attached to the Department of Social Welfare. According to the Committee’s bylaws, two delegates are a city councillor and a disabled person, both of whom are elected. The members of the committee reflect the interests and commitments of local organizations of disabled people and fight for their realization in local government decisions. Because of the committee’s status within the Social Welfare Department, the elected representatives of organizations of persons with disabilities represented in the committee can influence the decisions of municipal boards, such as the transportation authority, in order to protect the interests of their constituency in transportation planning, e.g. the provision of elevators, ramps, accessible telephone booths and public rest rooms.

Public Transportation

The supervision of public transportation lies in the hands of the state government. In the Federal Republic of Germany, every city is required by the constitution to grant equal rights to disabled and non-disabled citizens alike. Through the Public Transportation Act and the Disabled Persons Act, local governments are legally obliged to provide free special transport services to persons with extensive disabilities. The City of Munich receives also earmarked state grants to provide such services.

In Munich, transportation authorities in an effort to make public transportation more attractive have attempted to create a transportation system which not only caters to the needs of persons with extensive disabilities but also other citizens with temporary or permanent reduced mobility.

According to a 1984 survey by the Bavarian Ministry of Family, Labor and Transport, the number of citizens with reduced mobility amounts to about 55% of the total population. Thus, authorities today still fail to give adequate consideration to the needs of the majority of all citizens. Not only wheelchair users have problems using public transportation. Among people with reduced mobility are also parents with baby strollers, people carrying heavy luggage, older persons as well as persons with walking difficulties. In Munich, 15% of the population are over 65 and altogether 48,384 persons are mobility-impaired. A 1985 survey showed that there are 6,000 persons who use wheelchairs and thus have great difficulties in using public transportation. Ironically, it is for the provision of public transportation services for these groups that the City receives state grants via the Disability Act. According to the same study, one in four disabled people use at least one form of public transportation per day, compared with 15% of the non-disabled population.

A 1986 survey conducted in Lower Saxony showed that persons with disabilities make up 10% of public transport passengers on weekdays, and as much as 15-20% on weekends. This shows that a transport system able to accommodate persons using wheelchairs is be a step towards giving the system a wider appeal.

The number of persons with disabilities increases each year by about 2,000 due to traffic accidents. This growing part of the population calls for effective integration measures on the part of the authorities - simply for the reason that special facilities for as much as approximately 11.9% of the population are practically and economically not viable.

In 1986, the Munich City Council ordered the transport authorities to develop a public transportation system accessible to disabled citizens. In April 1987, a 3-axle low-floor bus with four entry/exit doors was presented by Auwärter/Neoplan, a West German bus manufacturer. The two entry/exit doors in the front are only 32 cm above street level. The foremost entry/exit door is equipped with a hydraulically driven ramp which can be lowered at every stop to facilitate comfortable and easy access for all passengers at only 16 cm above curb level. This means greater accessibility than other standard public busses today offer. Even the most advanced model of the Association of Public Transport Authorities expects passengers to climb up 70 cm to enter the bus.

For wheelchair users, the hydraulic ramp can be extended by an additional 20 cm which provides a step-free access from curb or street level.

Two spaces are provided inside the bus for baby carriages and persons using wheelchairs. A lateral partition and suitable protection bars eliminate the need for tie-downs and provide a high degree of safety during travel. Such a vehicle serves not only the interests of wheelchair users, but provides comfortable and easy access for all passengers without altering the basic system of bus transportation.

The City of Munich intends to equip at least 50% of the municipal bus fleet with these facilities provided the test results are positive. According to a survey conducted for the Ministry of Labor, the extra costs for a wheelchair accessible transportation system amount to only 1-2% of the purchase price. Another cost consideration is that in such a system there are no additional labor costs as in paratranist systems exclusively for people with disabilities.


The City of Munich is not the only West German municipality working for a public transportation system with wide appeal. There is also an experimental project in which the cities of Bremen, Berlin, Nuremberg and Wuppertal plan to use low-floor busses in regular city traffic.

A society that has declared its commitment to people with disabilities is under an obligation to reduce costly special-purpose services in favor of genuine integration measures. Here the cooperation of competent individuals and institutions is of paramount importance. Without the firm conviction of a great number of active persons that "public transportation is for everybody" we would still be waiting, in Munich, to be recognized as passengers of the transportation system.

The present report shows that local government politics require future-oriented planning for public transportation policy. The Municipal Committee on Mobility has done its share in this effort. In cities like Berkeley, California and Munich, West Germany general measures for improved environmental conditions have yielded encouraging results for the equalization of opportunities of citizens with disabilities - an achievement which special-purpose measures will never reach.

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