Sustainability of Canberra’s wheelchair taxi businesses in question, as seven unused licences go up for auction

Original post from 7 News

‘……….Adrienne Francis

Sean Fitzgerald says the availability of wheelchair friendly taxis has improved in the ACT, but getting a cab can still be hard at peak times.

Sean Fitzgerald says the availability of wheelchair friendly taxis has improved in the ACT, but getting a cab can still be hard at peak times.

Seven of Canberra’s 26 wheelchair accessible taxi licences will go under the hammer next month after falling out of circulation.

But questions have been raised about whether more government support is needed for operators.

Advocates for wheelchair users told the ABC this week that they believed the unused licences were abandoned because the operators were losing money.

And at least one wheelchair taxi operator agrees.

Robert Altamore from People with Disabilities said he believed the unused licences fell out of circulation for business reasons.

“Which is concerning … because if wheelchair taxi operators can’t run their taxis as sustainable businesses, people with disabilities don’t get the service,” he said.

Minister for Municipal Services Shane Rattenbury rejected that suggestion and said the drivers had simply retired or moved overseas.

“There was some hesitation to release them, because we are in the middle of a review of the taxi industry,” Mr Rattenbury said.

But he said the Government was now keen to get more wheelchair taxis on the road and the licences would be auctioned next month.

“I want to release these licences now to make sure we don’t slip behind,” he said.

Still hard to get cabs during peak times: patron

Community advocate Sean Fitzgerald uses a wheelchair and said he was lucky to have his own accessible vehicle.

But he and his support workers still rely on taxis.

Mr Fitzgerald said the service for wheelchair passengers had improved since the Government introduced a centralised booking system two years ago, following years of complaints.

“However it is still a little bit more difficult to get a cab, a wheelchair accessible cab at night on weekends and other low impact times,” he said.

Mr Fitzgerald said next month’s licence auction would be a boost for people with a disability in the ACT.

“It is a great opportunity for the Government to encourage seven new independent operators to come in who are enthusiastic,” he said.

‘I believe there’s no money in it’

But one veteran wheelchair taxi operator, John Tam, said he would not be bidding.

Mr Tam already operates five wheelchair accessible taxis and said it was a struggle to survive.

“I believe there’s no money in it,” Mr Tam said.

Disability advocates want a greater government effort to reduce the high set-up costs for wheelchair taxis, which are three times higher than for conventional taxis.

They said one solution could be interest-free loans.

“It could be done in the form of a subsidy,” Mr Altamore said.

Mr Tam agreed that subsidisation was the only way wheelchair taxis could survive in Canberra.

“It is a mix of policy which has got to come together. At the moment the policy is going to make everybody suffer,” he said.  ………..’

I have no knowledge of the taxi system relating to Australia, let alone the city of Canberra. Here in the UK taxis* are classified as follows:

‘Taxis (or ‘hackney carriages’) are available for immediate hire and can be hailed in the street (known as ‘plying for hire’). Taxis can also accept pre-bookings. Private hire vehicles (PHVs) (sometimes known as ‘minicabs’) must be pre-booked and cannot use taxi ranks. It is illegal for PHVs to ply for hire.*

These statistics are collected through a survey of the 316 licensing authorities in England and Wales (lower tier local authorities, and Transport for London). Survey responses account for over 95% of published totals. Where a figure is not provided, a response to previous surveys is carried forward. In a few cases, authorities report that figures are estimated, or relate to time points other than 31 March. However, these factors are unlikely to have a significant impact on the national and regional level figures.’*

As to wheelchair accessible Taxis* the situation is:

Taxis and minicabs*

Licensed taxis can be hailed on the street, picked up at ranks or pre-booked, but you can only pre-book minicabs (also called ‘private hire vehicles’).

Wheelchair access*

In some areas (mainly larger cities), licensed taxis have to be wheelchair accessible.

To find out if there are accessible taxis near you, contact the taxi licensing office at your local council.

London taxis*

In London, all black cabs are wheelchair accessible.

Some of the newer ‘black cabs’ are also fitted with induction loops and intercoms for hearing aid users.

Assistance dogs*

If you travel with an assistance dog they must be allowed into the taxi or minicab with you, unless the driver has an exemption certificate. This can be issued if they’ve got a medical condition made worse by contact with dogs.

A driver with an exemption certificate will have a yellow ‘Notice of Exemption’ notice on their vehicle windscreen.

It’s illegal to be charged extra to travel in a taxi or minicab with an assistance dog. Otherwise the driver could be fined up to £1,000.

The following types of dog can be taken with you in taxis or minicabs:

  • guide dogs trained by the Guide Dogs organisation
  • hearing dogs trained by Hearing Dogs
  • assistance dogs trained by Dogs for the Disabled, Support Dogs or Canine Partners

Travelling with your dog*

Taxi and private hire vehicle drivers have been told how to identify assistance dogs.

Your assistance dog should wear its harness or identification jacket when you are travelling with it. If an identification card was issued for the dog, this should also be carried.

Dogs should remain on the floor and under control at all times. If your dog causes any damage to the vehicle, the driver could ask you to pay for it.’

However while Taxis are classified as being ‘wheelchair accessible’ this does not means they are accessible for all wheelchairs. They will be accessible for some wheelchairs, but not all. Here I am not referring to motorised wheelchairs, which tend to be larger than manual wheelchairs. But to manual wheelchairs themselves to which there are a number of types. Also to which definition of accessible is being used, is it that both the wheelchair and the person within the wheelchair can gain access to the taxi, or is it greater than that to included that the wheelchair can be anchorded or clamped effectively. To be secure in a Taxi the wheelchair should be positioned so that it is facing either forwards or backwards and then clamped. In many of the UK taxis, especially in my own city of Sheffield it is not posible to turn the wheelchair when it is within the Taxi so that it is facing forwards or backwards, so that it left as it entered the Taxi, here I am assuming the entrance is by a side door and not through the back. If the wheelchair is left like this, then it will never be stable whether clamped or not.

In respect of my own daughter, Taxis have arrived where the doorway is not wide enough and when it is there is not sufficient height for entry to be gained without her having to tilt her head sideways. So we are restricted in the transport she can use, that being we do not use Taxis but have applied to use Community Transport, where we have, in our situation, to plan journeys 1 week in advance. If you are in the UK and have a mobility disability you may also be eligible to use Community Transport in your own area.



*Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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