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