Accessible taxis missing in action

| August 1, 2012

Although response times for accessible taxis should be the same as for other taxis it’s not something that is enforced. Tricia Malowney says governments around Australia need to ensure more taxis suit the needs of the disabled.

Dear taxi industry, instead of demanding that our wheelchairs be modified to suit the needs of the taxi industry, why not take up your moral and legal responsibility and modify taxis to meet our needs writes the President of the Victorian Disability Services Board and disability campaigner, Tricia Malowney.

I have a simple catch cry which I use as an advocacy tool – "If you are funded to provide services to Victorians, that means all Victorians" – in the case of the taxi industry, it should be – if you are funded to provide services to victorians with disabilities, that means all Victorians with disabilities, not just those whose bodies meet the Australian standards!

The Victorian Government has just announced that Wheelchair Accessible Taxis will now be used to get groups of people home from late night venues for a cheaper fare for each. How does the Government propose that people with disabilities should get home – of course, we don’t go out at night. Please consult with us before you make these arrangements.

I have long been concerned about the lack of meaningful consultation with people with disabilities by the Department of Transport in Victoria. The Public Transport Access Committee was disbanded following a review, and despite being newly reformed, with new members appointed, it has not met since May 2011.

The committee has now been told that the meeting scheduled for this July has been postponed until August. So we have decisions being made which affect the lives of Victorians with disability being decided by people who have no understanding of the issues, but who are keen take shortcuts and implement inequitable policies, despite their state, federal and international obligations.

A recent example of this is the decision not to carry motorised scooters in wheelchair accessible taxis, unless the person can get out of the scooter and can sit in the seat. My scooter has been prescribed for me to suit my mobility needs, as are most scooters, and is classified as a wheelchair. It not a fashion accessory, it is not used because I am too lazy to walk. It is a necessary aid to enable me to participate in everyday life. When I use my scooter, I stay in it, when shopping, when dining, when travelling, only getting out of it when at a meeting, when appropriate.

When questions are raised as to why this has been done, the response is that it is for the safety of passengers in a collision or during sudden braking, as they are unable to be tied down, because they do not meet Australian standards. They have not sought solutions, they have just said – you don’t fit our passenger requirements.

We already have limited access to public transport in Victoria – we have over crowded trains, and I have been denied access to them on occasion when the driver has refused to load me, as "they "give priority to people who work" – apparently I travel at peak times for the thrill of it!

While we have some accessible trams, and some accessible tram stops, they do not always match up, or where I want to alight is not accessible. For example, I can travel by scooter to the train station, catch a train to Box Hill and catch the 109 tram, but I cannot get off at the stop closest to where I need to attend a meeting. Or I can get to Vermont where there is an accessible stop, but the tram that runs on that line is not low floor, and has steps, thereby denying me access.

I could catch a bus, but I am not guaranteed access to that in peak times either as a crowded bus means that the driver will deny me entry – again for safety reasons.

So I am left with taxis – well, I used to be – not any more – they refuse to take me because my mobility limitations do not allow me to transfer safely to a seat within the confines of the taxi.

So despite my desire to catch public transport, I am required to drive to work because the Department of Transport does not recognise my rights to accessible public transport.

I now discover that any wheelchair which tilts must travel in the upright position, regardless of the needs of the passenger, or the taxi driver can refuse the fare. There has been no consideration to the reason why the wheelchair tilts. I know of children with disabilities whose only way of getting to school is via taxi, who could choke without the ability to tilt their wheelchair to an appropriate angle, and to adjust the tilt. Would we deny them access to an education because the taxi industry is too lazy to seek a solution?

Here’s a suggestion for the taxi industry, the Department of Transport and the Minister. Seek solutions, talk to us about what we need – some people have already sourced the solutions through TADVIC and done your job for you.

Alternatively, can I suggest that instead of demanding that our wheelchairs be modified to suit the needs of the taxi industry, that you take up your moral and legal responsibility and modify taxis to meet our needs. Start working within a human rights framework. We cannot redesign our bodies.

I know the Department of Transport and the Taxi Industry are giving bad advice to the Minister, Terry Mulder, so I am appealing directly to him. Ask your Department what solutions have been sought, and when they say it is too hard, which is their usual response, ask them if they have spoken to TADVIC – they are a great organisation who who will do the department’s job for them.

I must declare that although I was a member of the previous Public Transport Access Committee, and have lobbied hard for meaningful policy and program consultation, I was warned not to apply for the new committee, as I was considered a trouble-maker for demanding that our rights be considered. The cheek of me.

Tricia Malowney has been Co-Chair of the Women with Disabilities Victoria Board since its inception. Prior to this Tricia was Convenor of the VWDN Collective from 2004. She was responsible for overseeing the partnership agreement with Women’s Health Victoria to develop the Advocacy Information Service and the redevelopment of the Network. She uses her roles as President of the Disabilities Services Board, co-chair of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Disabilities Reference Group, member of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council, Public Transport Access Committee, the Road Based Public Transport Advisory Council and Council Member of Women’s Health Victoria to ensure that the needs of all Victorians are considered in policy planning and development, service delivery and research. She writes regularly for Pro Bono Australia News.