Dunedin’s dis­abled lose out due to taxi short­age

Otago Daily Times - - DUNEDIN - MIKE HOULAHAN Health re­porter [email protected]

A SHORT­AGE of to­tal mo­bil­ity taxis and trained drivers is com­pro­mis­ing the abil­ity of Dunedin’s dis­abled com­mu­nity to get around town, Dis­abled Per­sons Assem­bly lo­cal spokesman Chris Ford says.

Mr Ford reg­u­larly uses mo­bil­ity taxis, and is one of an es­ti­mated 1000 city res­i­dents who use a power chair or wheel­chair.

Scarcity of ve­hi­cles and drivers meant they needed to be booked well in ad­vance, and us­ing them was not al­ways straight­for­ward.

High de­mand meant for a re­cent trip to the cinema Mr Ford could get a ride in, but no van fit­ted out to han­dle his power chair was avail­able to take him home again.

‘‘There is only lim­ited ser­vice avail­able to peo­ple with mo­bil­ity im­pair­ment, par­tic­u­larly on a 24­hour ba­sis,’’ Mr Ford said.

‘‘It’s re­ally im­por­tant that we as dis­abled peo­ple should en­joy an eq­ui­table level of ac­cess, through mo­bil­ity vans, as the rest of the pop­u­la­tion . . . I rely on taxis for work, so there is an eco­nomic im­pact as well.

‘‘There is great de­mand, and it will only rise as the pop­u­la­tion ages.’’

The lack of vans meant driver ill­ness or me­chan­i­cal is­sues could cause huge dis­rup­tion to the lives of dis­abled pas­sen­gers, Mr Ford said.

Peak tourism sea­son also of­ten meant Dunedin res­i­dents were un­able to book mo­bil­ity taxis.

One re­cent cruise ship had 11 pas­sen­gers on board who re­quired trans­porta­tion.

Buses with chair ac­cess were avail­able but were not suit­able for all dis­abled peo­ple, Mr Ford said.

South­ern City Taxis owner An­thony Ware es­ti­mated Dunedin needed at least five more to­tal mo­bil­ity taxis to serve the city’s wheel­chair and power chair users, and cope with hospi­tal and rest­home trans­fers and other reg­u­lar jobs which re­quired spe­cialised ve­hi­cles.

‘‘Any­thing un­ex­pected that comes up can com­pletely stuff our sched­ule up, and I might have to ask four to five book­ings for the af­ter­noon to go away.’’ The taxis are not cheap. It costs about $50,000 to fit out a ve­hi­cle for dis­abled pas­sen­ger use.

Even harder than find­ing a prop­erly equipped ve­hi­cle was find­ing peo­ple who wanted to drive them, Mr Ware said.

‘‘The more drivers we can have in train­ing, the bet­ter.

‘‘Even if we put them in nor­mal cars, it means we can call on them when needed to work on the vans.’’

PHOTO: PETER MCIN­TOSH

Ac­cess is­sues . . . South­ern City Taxis driver Julie Man­son helps Chris Ford in to one of the com­pany’s to­tal mo­bil­ity taxis.

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