Published: 21 June 2017
Author: Dan McGlade

Tram accident renews question - how safe are passengers on city trams?

Every now and then as a lawyer, a case crosses my path where I become as frustrated as my clients at the constraints of the law and am equally baffled by the poor response from the offending party involved.

Such a scenario recently occurred in the case of a client's complaint regarding Yarra Trams.

Two adult daughters, Gwen Campbell and Lorraine Campbell-Cracknell, recently visited my office as they sought a better understanding of their rights following a recent accident while visiting Melbourne.

Within seconds of boarding a tram in Melbourne and before they were seated, their 86-year-old mother and 87-year-old father fell as the tram took off, which resulted in a chain of unfavourable events.

Lorraine Campbell-Cracknell started a petition on change.org, which best outlines the story. Starting with a single signature, support has now grown to 14,029 signatures, reflecting growing public dissatisfaction with the service. This is Lorraine’s story.

“Recently my family and I took a planned trip to Melbourne for a few days, which unfortunately turned into a nightmare. We were boarding a tram in Spencer / Bourke Street on the 5th March 2017 at 12.25pm. Before being able to be seated, the tram took off with a jolt, both my parents aged 86 and 87 were thrown to the floor, my sister and I also nearly fell. I wish to point out that older people do not have the same reflexes as younger people, there should be some consideration in allowing time for older people to board and be seated. Having conductors on the trams to see that people have boarded the trams with safety could alleviate this issue, there seems to be a huge issue with injuries pertaining to this matter.

My mother sustained a leg injury, which required her to be transported by ambulance to the Alfred Hospital, which then required surgery. The incident has caused much pain and distress to both of my parents whom have been married for 65 years. This incident has affected my Mother's physical and mental well being and will take a long time, if ever to get over, she now has a fear of travelling on public transport, (trams), hopefully your department can look into improving the safety of tram services so that others do not endure what my parents have had to go through. At the time of this email, my Mother remains in hospital. A once very independent lady now requires a mobility aid. Hoping you can find the time to respond to this email.’

It is now three months since the tram accident. I have worked closely with the family to ensure they can claim personal injury compensation via TAC and they are pleased with this outcome. Most recently, the family are relieved to be able to access a wheelchair in order to comfortably travel longer distances.

Public accountability 

Sadly, despite several efforts by the family, Yarra Trams’ response has been slow and unsatisfactory. The family are seeking an apology and compensation for expenses related to the accident. They sought reimbursement for:

  • Accommodation in Melbourne – especially as most of their time was spent in hospital,
  • Taxi fares to and from the hospital for visiting family members
  • Their mother’s jeans which were forcibly cut by medicos en route to the hospital, and
  • Leather shoes and a suitcase and belongings damaged as a result of the accident.

While these items add up to less than $2,000, the company’s failure to acknowledge its responsibility in this ordeal is unsatisfactory.

While the family has now received a letter of apology from Yarra Trams, the response fails to take responsibility for the incident or address the issue of compensation.

Is sorry enough?

In short, no. Yarra Trams, please hear us when we say your treatment of the elders of our community is disgraceful for a company servicing Melbourne - a city voted the world’s most liveable city six years running.

Meanwhile, how do we put a price on the fact that Gwen and Lorraine’s mother, who prior to the accident was a fit and healthy woman, is now visiting the doctor weekly to help heal her wounds, has aggravated back pain, is reluctant to travel on public transport, and has had her confidence knocked around?

It is particularly ironic that the Yarra Trams website states that “the guiding principle for operating Melbourne's tram network is to 'think like a passenger' with the aim of delivering the best possible travelling experience.” Clearly, in this case, Yarra Trams has failed to live up to its own standards.

Growing concern for commuter safety

Growing media reports state that tram drivers are under pressure to meet KPIs to create efficient services. However, surely there is little value in being on time when passengers are being injured or exiting and detouring via ambulance to hospital!

In August 2016, figures showed a significant increase in tram passengers falling and seriously injuring themselves. Injuries to passengers have almost doubled in comparison to the first quarter – up from 8 to 14. Only as recently as 22 May 2017, a tram and truck collided in Melbourne, which injured around 30 people.

While the Campbell family are pleased to return to the more familiar and seemingly safer ways of Ballarat, Yarra Trams, please be aware that in a country town like ours, people talk and we are in fierce agreement that your current approach is unacceptable. We invite you again to make what’s wrong right.

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