CityRail’s allergy to MLAK

MLAK is a great system. It stands for Master Locksmith’s Access Key, and it is a (near) universal system for gaining 24/7 access to disabled toilets in public facilities around Australia. To get an MLAK, you simply visit your local locksmith, show your disability parking permit, or a letter from a doctor or other service provider, and they issue the key. Mine cost $12, but I’m not sure if that’s a standard cost. In return, you get access to clean, well serviced, accessible bathrooms in any location where the facility has chosen to fit an MLAK lock. The lock, of course, keeps those who don’t need accessible facilities out. There’s rarely a queue for MLAK fitted toilets.

For whatever reason, CityRail in Sydney has chosen to mostly not use MLAK. They fit a different lock, with a sign above it saying ‘to use toilets, see station staff’. I recently wanted to use the bathroom at Circular Quay Station, so I first tried my MLAK, and after finding it didn’t work, sought out the station staff. The staff member at the exit gate looked at me blankly, then picked up her radio and called another staff member. Five minutes later, a staff member arrived with a key on a big wooden keyring, and instructed me to follow them. They let me in, and then waited outside to ensure the door was locked on my exit.

What a completely idiotic system! Just in terms of wasted staff time and cost, it is bad enough; to say nothing of the indignity of a person in a wheelchair having to ask to use a toilet when no other patron needs to.

CityRail has signs around stations at the moment, trumpeting their success in meeting certain benchmarks they have set themselves. One of these benchmarks is ‘better facilities for disabled passengers’. Their measure of success is that they have fitted MLAK locks on twelve existing accessible toilets at train stations (though they don’t say where). I’ve seen one — on Platform 5 at Strathfield Station (though the main accessible toilet on the ground floor remains locked with a ‘see staff’ sign).

I don’t know how much it costs CityRail to fit an MLAK lock, but my office fitted one and it was $50, plus 40 minutes labour. It seems to me that twelve MLAK locks is a pretty paltry effort. In the lead up to the NSW election, how about one of the parties do something really radical, and make a completely affordable, sensible, practical promise that will improve the commuting experience of an entire (albeit small) segment of rail commuters. I reckon it would cost less than $5,000 to convert them all. They’d save that in labour alone in the first month or two.

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