Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2011 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 30 March 2011) . . Page.. 1042 ..
(d) report back to the Assembly by June 2011.
The Greens are seeking to move this motion regarding wheelchair accessible taxis because we believe people who require their use have been poorly serviced for too long. I quote the Advocacy for Inclusion’s budget submission:
Transport is possibly the biggest single barrier to people with disabilities engaging with the Canberra community. Many people with disabilities live in isolation and poverty due to an almost complete incapacity to reliably leave their homes.”
Here in the ACT those people with disabilities who rely on wheelchair accessible taxis, or WATs, have seen review after review conducted over the last decade, with little improvement in their ability to access the service. It is an essential service because it provides for people’s social inclusion through their ability to attend employment and education, visit family and attend social activities.
In May 2010, the WAT Consortium made a very strong submission to the taxi review. It argued, quite rightly, that for the ACT government to facilitate the human rights of people with disabilities a radical new WATs service was needed. The consortium put forward two preferred models, which included the preferred model for a not-for-profit WAT service delivered by ACTION with salaried drivers—existing WATs would be phased out as the current licences expired—and a compromise for a centrally managed WAT fleet outside the existing taxi network, using dedicated WAT drivers.
The Canberra Taxi Industry Association—CTIA—suggested a model based on the WAT service in Geelong, where all plates are held by a single network. All WAT operators have to be a member of a single network, which is responsible for the management of the WAT fleet. One organisation is responsible for the operation and management of the fleet. Wheelchair jobs have priority. If a driver does not turn up for bookings promptly, they are investigated, counselled and ultimately asked to move out of WATs if they cannot be trusted.
While the ACT government has contracts with private operators to deliver WAT services and offers a number of subsidies, we know many drivers pursue more profitable runs, leaving WATs users underserviced. To give just one example, my office was recently advised of a man and his carer having to wait eight hours for a WAT to arrive. This issue of what fares a WAT driver decides to take is impacted by their ability to earn a living, given the high costs associated with running a taxi in general.
According to the government’s discussion paper from April 2010, there are 25 WAT taxis operating in the ACT and 26 licences. In July 2009, the community sector advised me that, of the 26 licences, only 17 were being used and 11 did not fit electric wheelchairs, leaving only six WATs operating that could service electric wheelchairs. WAT users also advised that if they were to be assured of a service, they would contact a preferred driver and make a booking with them outside the booking system.