People with disabilities felt ‘helpless’ and ‘humiliated’ after trying to access subsidized taxi fares

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It was 9pm on Wednesday October 5 when disability advocate Adrian O’Malley drove from the arrivals hall at Melbourne Airport to the taxi rank.

His flight from Sydney had been delayed. He was tired and just wanted to get to his hotel so he could rest before a presentation the next day.

When the first taxi closed its window, Mr O’Malley showed the driver his Transport New South Wales interstate taxi grant voucher. The voucher subsidizes 50% of taxi rides for eligible passengers, up to $60.

With the door locked, the driver said, “I don’t have to take you, mate”.

“I said, ‘Yeah, you do,'” Mr O’Malley said.

“‘This is not a discussion, you are legally bound to take me’.”

The driver refused. Mr. O’Malley had the same problem with the following five taxis.

“A guy just closed the window on me,” says Mr O’Malley.

“It was a shitty experience, it was disempowering and a bit humiliating.”

Disability discrimination

Since Mr O’Malley had a stroke 16 years ago, he has not been legally allowed to drive, so he often relies on taxis and ride-share vehicles to get around.

He says what he experienced at Melbourne Airport earlier this month was disability discrimination, and it shouldn’t have happened.

“As far as Victoria is concerned, it seems disabled people are seen as an issue that the taxi industry would prefer not to deal with,” he says.

“We just want to live our lives – they have to provide services for people with disabilities.”

Mr O’Malley is considering filing a complaint with VCAT and Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria (now known as Safe Transport Victoria).

“We must do better”

The Disability Resource Center (DRC) says what Mr O’Malley has experienced is all too common.

“Some drivers won’t pick up,” says DRC campaign manager Ally Scott.

“It’s a huge problem. You can’t guarantee you’ll get somewhere on time, so it keeps people with disabilities out.”

Subsidy programs differ from state to state, and some interstate vouchers act like checks, so taxi drivers must visit an office to be reimbursed.

Ally Scott wants a subsidy system that works for passengers and taxi drivers.(ABC News)

The DRC is asking for a simpler and more coherent system of subsidies so that people with disabilities can easily move around.

“It’s not just an annoying little thing, it’s a real basic right that people can’t access work, education and a social life,” Ms Scott said.

“We have to do better than that.”

Victorian taxi and ridesharing regulator Safe Transport Victoria says it is “deeply disappointed” to hear of unprofessional conduct by taxi drivers.

“This behavior is not acceptable,” said Safe Transport Victoria’s director of people and engagement, Ayten Erkul.

“Safe Transport Victoria strongly reminds drivers and booking service providers of their legal obligations when transporting passengers with disabilities.”

Good Victorian hard to put together

After an eye haemorrhage in March led to a dramatic reduction in her vision, Robyn Anderson OAM can no longer clearly see anything more than a meter in front of her.

She expected many challenges, but she didn’t think using the Victorian government’s taxi subsidy scheme would be one of them.

from Victoria versatile taxi program (MPTP) is designed to help people with accessibility needs by providing subsidized rides on non-reserved taxi fares.

Ms. Anderson’s first experience trying to use the program left her sick.

She had tried to follow the instructions given to her and had booked a taxi through the 13cabs app, not realizing that she had already prepaid for the ride.

An older woman with dyed red hair and a white jacket smiles at the camera
Robyn Anderson doesn’t want anyone else to have a bad experience trying to use the taxi subsidy program.(Provided: Robyn Anderson)

When the taxi arrived, she told the driver that she wanted to use the MPTP card to pay for half of her trip. The driver said he couldn’t take the MPTP card because she had already paid – when Ms Anderson said she didn’t understand what she had done wrong, the driver allegedly started yelling at her.

“I was absolutely mortified that someone would get mad at you and start yelling at you for not understanding,” she says.

“I felt like a second-class citizen.”

After three cab rides and a call to the company’s customer service, Ms. Anderson still didn’t know how to use the correct MPTP.

In the end, it was only with the help of her optometrist’s receptionist that she properly configured the taxi company’s app to be able to use the program.

Ms Anderson has made three complaints to 13cabs about her experiences, calling on the company to train drivers on how to deal with people with disabilities.

sorry taxi company

Olivia Barry, chief operating officer at 13cabs, says she’s “really sorry” Ms Anderson didn’t have a positive experience in the car.

“We spoke to this driver who handled the trip with Robyn and re-educated him,” she said.

“We have to take care of these people, that’s our job.”

Ms. Barry says Ms. Anderson is not the only customer who has had difficulty configuring the MPTP card.

She asks Safe Transport Victoria to review what people are told when they first access the program.

“I don’t know what information the cardholder receives, but obviously that’s not enough,” she says.

“We are happy to work with the government to help new users.”

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