Dunedin's disabled lose out due to taxi shortage

Southern City Taxis driver Julie Manson helps Chris Ford in to one of the company's total...
Southern City Taxis driver Julie Manson helps Chris Ford in to one of the company's total mobility taxis. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
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 24-hour 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 rest-home 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.''



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