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Regional Roundtable reveals Grafton wheelchair taxi issue

Regional Roundtable reveals Grafton wheelchair taxi issue

Rodney Stevens

An alarming reality for Grafton wheelchair users was discovered by Councillor Karen Toms when she attended the Regional Roundtable on Wheelchair Accessible Services last week in Ballina.

Cr Toms, who represented Clarence Valley Council as chair of Council’s Access Advisory Committee, attended the roundtable at Ballina RSL along with NSW Minister for Regional Roads Ms Jenny Aitchison and NSW Minister for Disability Inclusion, Families and Communities, Ms Kate Washington, and seven-time Paralympian in Wheelchair Basketball and Sailing, Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Inclusion and NSW Member for Gosford, Liesl Tesch.

The roundtable meetings are being held in communities around the state to listen to experiences and ideas for improving services for both users and operators, to provide better wheelchair accessible transport.

Cr Toms said the roundtable which provided valuable insights and practical suggestions to wheelchair accessibility, primarily in taxis, was also attended by taxi industry representatives and business owners, Clarence Valley based business Connect You Too, and members of Access Advisory committees from other local councils.

She said she was provided a valuable submission to the roundtable by former Clarence Valley Council Deputy Mayor, Jason Kingsley, who uses a wheelchair which revealed Grafton has just one wheelchair accessible taxi.

“We’ve only got one wheelchair accessible taxi in Grafton, and apparently that’s been the case since 1994, according to Jason Kingsley, and that taxi is contracted to the Education Department during the week for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, which means its unavailable for the general public who need it,” she said.

The regulator for taxis, hire vehicles and rideshare in NSW, Point to Point Transport Commissioner, Anthony Wing, also attended, Cr Toms said.

“The agenda looked at the experiences of people who use public transport and taxis,” she said.

‘Tell us your experience’ was the first session where passengers talked about the problems they have getting wheelchair accessible transport, and also the problems encountered by the operators, and innovative approaches in Australia, like in Western Australia where they are permitted to import ex-London wheelchair accessible taxis, which are a fabulous solution.

Taxi operators explained how it’s so much more expensive to buy a wheelchair accessible vehicle than a normal sedan, and when you are taking disabled passengers it takes the driver much longer each trip, so someone taking able bodied people can do a lot more business and make more money than if they had a more expensive, wheelchair accessible vehicle, making it not really financially viable for them to buy those vehicles.

The roundtable Issues Paper detailed the vision for wheelchair accessible services that meet the needs of passengers and are economically viable for service providers and drivers.

The issues paper looked at the supply of and demand for wheelchair accessible transport, revealing in 2018 there were 75,000 people in NSW who use a wheelchair or mobility scooter according to ABS statistics, while in 2024 there are only 681 licensed wheelchair accessible taxis registered in NSW.

“There will be a report back to the state government after all of the roundtable meetings around the state,” Cr Toms said.