Guest blog from half the world away, by the beautiful Alex Holland. A fiesty lawyer and real advocate for changing perceptions. Check out her blog.
It’s 5am and my alarm goes off. A ridiculous hour, considering I don’t have to be at work until 9am. But I figure, if I want to get a wheelchair taxi come pick me up at peak hour, I’ll have more luck if I call and book it a few hours in advance. Usually I would rely on public transport to get me to and from work, but with the electric component of my wheelchair on the fritz, I decide to make life easier on myself and book a taxi. It will be less stressful and more convenient.
Right? Wrong. How naïve I am.
The wheelchair taxi I booked for 8am doesn’t show up. I call the booking number for the fourth time at 8:45am and ask them why no one has come to get me, despite me calling three hours prior to make the booking.
‘I’m sorry,’ says the operator, ‘most of the maxi-taxis are out at the airport.’
Of course they are. They’re all out there picking up the $100 fares that go from the airport into the city, rather than picking me up in South Melbourne to go a couple of blocks to Williams Street.
I order the operator to just send a normal taxi and it arrives in 10 minutes. Despite my cerebral palsy, I stand-up, lean against the side of the taxi and awkwardly try to balance while I disassemble my own wheelchair. I arrive at work at 9:15am, the driver helps me take the wheelchair out of the car, and while I’m re-assembling it, the driver closely inspects whether the upholstery has been damaged by my chair.
My anecdote is echoed in thousands of similar scenarios experienced by members of the disabled community. While wheelchair users are supposed to be given priority and put to the top of the list to be picked up by accessible taxis, in reality, if a driver doesn’t want to take the job he is under no obligation to do so. Regulations need to be developed to obligate drivers to pick up passengers with a disability that are in their vicinity and minimum quotas should be established on the number of passengers with a disability drivers must pick up. Currently, no such standards exist and the disabled community is suffering. Trying to utilise the MPTP can be especially difficult during peak hour times and late at night on weekends – so if you’re a person with a disability that works or likes to go out on weekends, bad luck. If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not – there are a plethora of stories from disabled members of the community which would disgust the average person.
And it’s about to get worse.
In an article published in The Age on the 10th of January, it was explained that Uber’s growing dominance in the private transport market is inevitably going to adversely affect the disabled community. With Uber likely to soon become legalised across Australia, there is growing concern that Australia will follow the trend occurring in the US; more taxi drivers have opted to work for Uber resulting in less wheelchair friendly cabs on the roads.
While Uber currently offers a service known as ‘UberAssist’, which is aimed at providing the Uber cabs for people with mobility aids, the service is only available to people with collapsible aids. Great, some of the disabled community can use Uber! The rest can just hope that a wheelchair taxi is still on the road…
Every Australian living with a disability has a right to accessible transport, both in domestic and international law. The current taxi industry is under threat with the rise of Uber and any review of the MPTP should include a consideration of the negative effects this rise is going to have on the disabled community. In the discussion paper, there is absolutely no mention of Uber and how it is likely to reduce the number of wheelchair accessible taxis further. The existing MPTP is already flawed, Uber is about to make things worse – the Victorian Government needs to listen to the voices of the disabled community, otherwise complaints of discrimination will undoubtedly start flooding in.