French law student and activist Kévin Fermine decided enough was enough after numerous train trips from the southern French city to Paris, always unable to gain access to the toilet or the train cafeteria during the 7-hour journey.
“I’m 26 years old. How much longer before I can travel freely by train?” he’s quoted as saying by France BFM TV station.
The young man, who suffers from Little's Disease (a form of cerebral palsy), decided to take the matter to court, arguing SNCF was harnessing a form of “discrimination” against him and all other wheelchair-bound passengers.
“The SNCF forces people with reduced mobility to be placed in the middle of the carriage passageway, forcing other passengers to step over them to reach their seat,” he said in a press release.
“They also switch off the assistance buttons meant for people with disabilities”.
“I have urinated myself in the past, just because I couldn’t go to the bathroom.
I can't move from the beginning to the end of my trip. I hardly ever have access to the train cafeteria. I'm a prisoner trapped in my spot. It's really very degrading, I can’t stand it anymore”.
Fermine's lawyer told the judge that SNCF was “in breach of the rules relating to the accessibility of people with reduced mobility”, demanding €20,000 in damages for his client.
But SNCF’s attorney Alexandra Aderno stressed at the hearing that the public rail company was under no obligation to comply “until 2024”.
“The 2015 law allows SNCF to propose a calendar of changes, it was approved by the State in 2016 and it will extend over 9 years,” she pleaded before Toulouse’s Civil Court.
The law allows SNCF to gradually implement “its infrastructure changes, services and materials” in accordance with those pertaining to the accessibility of the disabled.
The judge agreed with SNCF’s case and dismissed Fermine’s claim, ordering him instead to pay all the legal costs of the rail company for the case.
The decision represents another insult for France’s disabled community, who since 2015 have been particularly irate by the government’s decision to push back the deadline by which public transport and buildings had to be wheelchair friendly by nine years.
That was at a time when only 15 to 40 percent of the buildings that were required to improve their disabled access had done so.