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A Canberra Citizen’s Cringe on wheelchair accessible taxis

By sudata - 19 October 2010 19

This week, I am, quite frankly, embarrassed to be a Canberran. The source of my shame is the ACT Wheelchair Accessible Taxi (WAT) system. It doesn’t work. Wheelchair users who are resident in Canberra, like me, know that the WATs don’t work. We are inured to this infringement of our human rights, with consequent isolation for many of our number. However, when the shortcomings of the WATs are visited upon our city’s guests, I am humiliated beyond measure.

Recently I was privileged to have a meeting with a visiting scholar from America who is on a fellowship at the ANU. This world-renowned academic is virtually a prisoner in the ANU campus because she uses a motorised wheelchair and is reliant on WATs to get around our city. Since arriving, she has already experienced the 2-hour wait at a kerbside for a pre-booked taxi which failed to materialise.

She has already experienced being refused travel in a WAT because the driver didn’t know how to operate the cab’s equipment. This sort of treatment of visitors to Canberra has to stop!

Our WAT reputation spreads beyond our borders, and it’s costing us a mint in lost tourist dollars. Mind you, it doesn’t wash for residents either. A group of wheelchair users recently submitted an alternative WAT proposal to the current ACT Taxi Review. We want a not-for-profit fleet of WATs with salaried drivers, but we fear the outcome of the Review will just be yet another round of “tinkering at the edges” of a broken system.

To compound this international professor’s transport problems, she is in Canberra with her partner who also uses a motorised wheelchair.

I am ashamed to say that WAT drivers are consistently and illegally charging these visitors to our city the $17 ‘Lift Fee’ for securing the wheelchairs in their cabs. That’s $17 per person per trip. Consider how you would feel if every taxi trip you took cost an extra $34. WAT drivers in the ACT do get paid a Lift Fee by the ACT Government when they carry ACT residents who have qualified for Taxi Subsidy Vouchers.

It seems some drivers are bullying voucher-less passengers for an ‘incentive payment’ to which they are not entitled.

So why not use the buses you say? Aha! The Number 3 Bus Route travels through the campus, and the on-line timetable is encouragingly dotted with Access symbols. But our visitors have been told that there are no longer any Wheelchair Accessible Buses on the Number 3 Route.

On other routes they have found that the Access symbols mean nothing.

Unfortunately resident Canberra wheelchair users are also victims of unreliable Access bus schedules. It means that they cannot rely on buses to commute and have to put their faith in WATs to get to work.

Have you spotted the Catch-22 in that logic?

It would seem that the only logical action might be for them to take up residence at the ACT Human Rights Commission, lodge a barrage of claims, and get a few of these inequities straightened out. Instead I fear that they will return to the USA, shaking their heads in disbelief at how inaccessible our city is. So for now, I just remain ashamed of being a Canberran.

 “Sudata”, Canberra wheelchair citizen

October 2010

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19 Responses to
A Canberra Citizen’s Cringe on wheelchair accessible taxis
olfella 9:47 pm 19 Oct 10

Sudata, just a point of clarification regarding Taxi vouchers. They are not given out willy nilly but rather ‘rationed’. If you require more frequent transport then unfortunately you have to dig into your own resources to obtain transport. And yes, I agree there is a problem.

olfella 9:41 pm 19 Oct 10

sepi said :

Something needs to be done about wheelchair taxis. How can our govt be so concerned with human rights, and yet people can’t get out of their houses?

I suggest massively increasing the wheelchair taxi fleet, paying the drivers a wage, rather than a fare system. Having some mini-vans rather than single cars, and then letting the drivers run them as standard taxis on busy times like Friday nights.

I think you will find that had been tried (and failed). Have you also noticed how our various governments rant about so called human rights then walk away.. Not having a go at you but being mobility impaired is just another reason to be disadvantaged.

s-s-a 9:32 pm 19 Oct 10

Nobody that’s showing this professor around has a personal wheelchair accessable vehicle? Private vehicles are the #1 way to get around this city.

On your first point, there are probably fewer than 20 personal wheelchair accessable vehicles in Canberra that would meet the needs of the visiting scholar, let alone her PLUS partner with similar needs.

The majority of wheelchair users can transfer from their chair into a regular car (and by extension, a regular taxi). For this particular person this is obviously not an option.

On your second point, that is all good and fine for most ppl who hold licences and can drive any car they happen to own/borrow/hire. For this person/couple they require access to BOTH a suitable vehicle and a driver.

There is no local business that hires wheelchair accessible vehicles. I have considered starting one however am yet to work up the courage to roll up my sleeves and wade into the insurance quagmire. In the meantime the local community makes as much as possible of informal loan/networking and I have messaged Sudata to offer some assistance.

It’s a crying shame that the fleet of wheelchair accessible vans obtained by the ACT govt after the Sydney Paralympics was divvied up among the special schools. Not that the schools don’t need or use them, but it also had the unfortunate result that they remain garaged throughout evenings, weekends and school holidays.

Devil_n_Disquiz 4:16 pm 19 Oct 10

Having some mini-vans rather than single cars, and then letting the drivers run them as standard taxis on busy times like Friday nights.

They do this already.

Also worth remembering that Cabxpress have the majority of wheelchair cabs now. Not something that Canberra Cabs will tell you when you call them for one.

Diggety 3:35 pm 19 Oct 10

Woody Mann-Caruso said :

Could you write in point form, what is actually wrong with the system?

Thicker than a whale omelette.

– lengthy delays for a WAT, which may or may not arrive
– drivers not trained to use equipment
– drivers charging exorbitant fees for lifts
– other public transport options insufficient to act as a substitute

How hard was that?

Thanks Woody Mann- Caruso. But there was a reason I asked Sudata to summarise.

Devil_n_Disquiz 3:33 pm 19 Oct 10

Perhaps contacting TAMS about this drivers activities charging life fees he is not entitled to, would have been more fruitful than posting here. As you said yourself, its illegal. The only thing a driver is entitled to if there is no subsidy voucher is metered waiting time whilst loading.

Also a driver (according to TAMS) should not be driving a conditional taxi (wheelchair accessible) if he is not trained to do so.

I look forward to your reporting back to this place to advise how TAMS were able to assist you.

sepi 3:07 pm 19 Oct 10

Something needs to be done about wheelchair taxis. How can our govt be so concerned with human rights, and yet people can’t get out of their houses?

I suggest massively increasing the wheelchair taxi fleet, paying the drivers a wage, rather than a fare system. Having some mini-vans rather than single cars, and then letting the drivers run them as standard taxis on busy times like Friday nights.

Ian 2:57 pm 19 Oct 10

Probably needs it on a PPT slide in large font?

Woody Mann-Caruso 2:03 pm 19 Oct 10

Could you write in point form, what is actually wrong with the system?

Thicker than a whale omelette.

– lengthy delays for a WAT, which may or may not arrive
– drivers not trained to use equipment
– drivers charging exorbitant fees for lifts
– other public transport options insufficient to act as a substitute

How hard was that?

youami 2:01 pm 19 Oct 10

I am all for ensuring that there is a system in place for disabled folk to get around (especially if one is promoted but is not actualyl implemented – which to me is a tad dissapointing) but why don’t you do something about it rather than rant on here unnecessarily. You should have already have done something! In any event, you would be completely surprised at how good we have it in Australia, when compared to overseas countries, even America where I recently travelled and there was basically limited to no access to public transport for wheelchair bound citizens. and yes as post #1 intimates, Canberra is a private-vehicle city. Able-bodied citizens find it just as difficult to get around waiting for taxis and buses so don’t think you (or your professor) are any exceptions to this. If you want a service full of wheelchair accessible transport move! It is your choice that you live in Canberra, completely and entirely your choice.

troll-sniffer 12:09 pm 19 Oct 10

Your timing is impeccably bad, following the post here about the push to mandate wheelchair access for the buses to Sydney, which got a lot of hackles raised.

However you do have a point, in that unlike the Sydney run, which is actually catered for by the train service, the WAT issue is something that does not appear to have an alternative, and if regulations and conditions for WAT taxis need to be tightened then I’m all for that.

Diggety 11:59 am 19 Oct 10

SUDATA,

Could you write in point form, what is actually wrong with the system?
I find this to be written as an emotional rant and as such, difficult to decipher exactly what the problems were that you experienced.

Woody Mann-Caruso 11:03 am 19 Oct 10

hurf durf its not my fault you’re disabled if we cater for you my costs will go up can’t expect business to follow the law every man for himself if we give you this you’ll want a personal monorail to your door next hurf durf

trix 10:32 am 19 Oct 10

That’s a helpful remark — “get your own car” (effectively). While Canberra has pretentions of being a world-class city – not to mention being the nation’s capital, the state of public transport here is embarrassing.

I was amazed to see that ridiculous “lift charge” the first time I got into a wheelchair-capable taxi. I can’t imagine the fuss that would happen if black cabs in London (which ALL must be wheelchair-capable) started charging extra to get someone into the cab! There *may* be some justification for putting the meter on and charging the “wait time” while getting someone loaded up, but I’d have to consider that bullsh*t as well — just a slight improvement on the current status quo.

Solidarity 10:01 am 19 Oct 10

I’m able-bodied, and don’t use ACTION/Taxis because they’re inconvenient, let alone if I needed a WAT… Nobody that’s showing this professor around has a personal wheelchair accessable vehicle? Private vehicles are the #1 way to get around this city.

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