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People With Disabilities ACT acknowledges the Ngunnawal People as the traditional owners of the land on which we work.
Copyright July 2015 People With Disabilities ACT Inc
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Executive Officer| PWD ACT
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About PWD ACT
People With Disabilities ACT Inc. (PWD ACT Inc.) is a not for profit consumer run systemic advocacy organisation which represents the interests of people with disabilities in the ACT. PWD ACT Inc. works to improve access to all amenities and to all forms of information and activities of the community. PWD ACT Inc. is a peak body which seeks to inform the community about disability issues. PWD ACT advocates from a human rights perspective and acknowledges the UN Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities. The text of this Convention can be found at: www.hreoc.gov.au/disability_rights/convention.htm
Articles 9, 19 and 20 of this Convention are especially relevant to this submission.
PWD ACT has informed its individual and organisational members of this consultation in its May and June Newsletters and informed members of its intention to make a submission on this matter.
Comments on Consultation Process
PWD ACT contributed to the initial stakeholder consultation at which time it drew attention for the consultation process to be fully accessible. PWD ACT is therefore disappointed that 2 key documents for this process were not accessible, the survey and the Discussion Paper. The access problems with the survey were fixed promptly when PWD ACT reported them. The access problems with the Discussion Paper took some time to fix and as result this submission is slightly late, therefore the lateness is due to difficulties in accessing the Discussion Paper.
PWD ACT will focus on issues relating to people with disabilities as users of taxi and hire services both as currently provided and as they may be provided under the new digitally driven business models. Our submission will focus predominantly on taxi services rather than hire car services as taxi services are the main services used by people with disabilities due to their low incomes, higher prices of hire cars and the unavailability of the TSS Scheme for hire cars. PWD ACT is concerned to ensure that the outcome of this Review gives people with disabilities travel options which are safe. People with disabilities are people first and require the same outcomes from taxi travel as other people with the addition that the regulatory system ensures that their particular needs arising from their disability are met eg., that a taxi or other driver is able to safely secure their wheelchair in the vehicle.
For PWD ACT, the fundamental problem with this Discussion Paper is that it is based on the assumption that the user or consumer is a fully informed consumer who has the skills and knowledge to exercise control and make choices, who is digitally literate, is not a vulnerable person and is able to ensure their physical safety and financial interest. However, many people with disabilities are people who because of their social and economic disadvantage are not fully informed consumers, do not have the knowledge and skills to exercise control and make choices, are not digitally literate, are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and are not able to make decisions to protect their physical safety. PWD ACT recommends that if the Taxi and Hire Car industry is deregulated, people with disabilities be provided with training to give them the knowledge and personal skills to use the new digitally based transport options and to protect their physical safety and financial interests.
Importance of Taxis as Source of Transport
PWD ACT welcomes the recognition of the role of taxis as a source of mobility for people with disabilities many of whom are unable to drive due to their disability. Because of the layout of Canberra, people with disabilities need to use taxis for many tasks associated with employment, family responsibilities and recreation for which other people would use their cars, buses or cycling or walking. Often personal safety considerations such as negotiating dangerous roads or unfamiliar areas or night time travel require a person with a disability to use a taxi instead of other travel options.
The factors which people with disabilities rate as important from hire car services are the same as the general community. These include: reliability, convenience, price, vehicle comfort, driver behaviour and ease of booking and payment. Issues of reliability and driver behaviour are especially important given the vulnerable status of many people with disabilities. The potential for people with disabilities to benefit from the new digitally based models is limited by a number of factors, these include:
- The practical difficulties in applying the TSS to digitally based ride-sharing arrangements; and
- The difficulties in applying current regulatory regimes which underpin the reliability and safety of drivers to these arrangements.
On this latter point we are not confident that the additional safety rules which have been set by the providers of these models will be sufficient to protect vulnerable taxi users such as people with disabilities. In particular we reject the view that market incentives such as competition and reputation are able to address the needs of people with disabilities and other vulnerable taxi users for safe taxi travel.
For those people with disabilities who are digitally literate, the digitally based new models offer some but not all of the advantages that they offer to other users. This is especially so for the use of apps, provided they are ‘accessible’. Some People with disabilities have always facilitated their access to taxi services by establishing personal relations with a preferred driver or group of drivers who know them and understand their personal requirements. There is potential for digitally based taxi service models to enhance these individual service arrangements. In addition, the use of GPS technology can help people with vision impairments follow the progress of their taxi and be reassured that the taxi driver is taking the right route. However, as the Discussion Paper points out, many people with disabilities who use taxi services do so because the regulated nature of the service means that they are reasonably assured that the driver is a person of good character who has undergone appropriate training and that in the event of misconduct or poor service, they will be supported by a complaints system.
Safety and Consumer Protection
Personal safety is a critical issue for people with disabilities. We repeat that market forces such as competition and reputation will be insufficient to provide appropriate levels of safety and assurance for people with disabilities and other vulnerable taxi users. PWD ACT is aware of a recent news item in which it was reported that authorities in a large city in India have had to crack down on Uba due to the predatory behaviour of a substantial number of Uba drivers. Many people with disabilities will be unable to use the ratings systems and other information provided by digitally based taxi booking models to make decisions to protect themselves from personal risk or financial harm. Left unregulated, new technologies and business models for taxi services will increase the risks to personal safety and financial harm for people with disabilities and other vulnerable taxi users.
PWD ACT acknowledges that regulatory regimes need to support business models for taxi, WATS and hire care services which are economically sustainable. We acknowledge that if taxi, WATS and hire car owners and drivers cannot earn the income they need to cover their costs, get a return on their investment and support their families they cannot provide the service. However, economic viability is not incompatible with a strong regulatory regime to protect vulnerable taxi users.
The Discussion correctly acknowledges the importance of WATS services in providing a point to point transport services for persons for whom other forms of transport do not provide transport which is safe, accessible and convenient. The introduction of the Centralised Booking Service (CBS) as an outcome of the 2010 has substantially improved the quality and reliability of the service which had a long history as a poor service. These gains in the quality and reliability of the WATS service have been hard won. PWD ACT would therefore recommend against any regulatory changes to accommodate the new digital based taxi and ride share service which would lessen the current strict regulatory regime for WATS services or which would result in a poorer quality service.
- The cost of hire cars is the major reason why they are less frequently used by people with disabilities than taxis. If the cost of hire cars can be reduced and
- An appropriate regulatory regime can be put in place to protect people with disabilities and other vulnerable users, hire cars could provide another transport option to people with disabilities who can use standard vehicles.
Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport
PWD ACT notes that this review includes a controlled sample survey of TSS participants.
The experiences of people with disabilities with taxis, hire cars and related infrastructure. This survey will also seek comment on the level of compliance with the requirements of the Standard. PWD ACT’s experience and feedback from members is that compliance with the Standard is patchy at best. In relation to taxis, the improvements resulting from the Centralised Booking System are acknowledged. Signage and braille and tactile identification requirements are generally met. However, we have observed occasions when the braille and tactile markings on doors have deteriorated and have not been repaired. The Standards provisions regarding taxis suffer from the same defect which plagues Disability Discrimination Act Standards generally, they are poorly understood by people with disabilities and service providers and are poorly enforced.
In relation to the questions on safety and consumer protection see our comments above under this heading.
New Models and Consumer Outcomes
PWD ACT notes the acknowledgement in the Discussion Paper that many people with disabilities will require targeted information to use the new digital based on demand services effectively and to minimise their exposure to harm. PWD ACT recommends that specific information and training resources be developed for people with disabilities and is prepared to assist in the development of these resources and their delivery to people with disabilities.
On Demand Models and Public Transport Integration
Our past experience does not make PWD ACT optimistic about potential for integration of taxi services, (including the new services) with other public transport modes such as buses and light rail. A number of recent examples are in point. The most recent changes to the Canberra City and Belconnen interchange have worsened and not improved independent travel for people with vision impairments between interchange bus stops and taxi ranks. Whereas previously, it was possible for a person who is vision impaired to independent find the way from the bus stop to the taxi, the new arrangements at city and Belconnen interchanges require bus users to cross dangerous roads to get from bus stop to taxi rank. PWD ACT has expressed this concern previously and we remain concerned that this access barrier will be repeated when the renovations to the Woden bus interchange are done.
The Bus Plus initiative has potential for people with disabilities but we have not been consulted as to the design and implementation of this trial.
PWD ACT recommends that an outcome of this review be conclusion of an arrangement with NSW for the reciprocal recognition of ACT and NSW TSS benefits. At the moment ACT residents who get picked up by a Queanbeyan taxi cannot use their TSS cards. Similarly NSW residents cannot use their vouchers in ACT taxis. NSW are now moving from paper vouchers to a smart card and this should make achievement of reciprocal recognition possible.
The development of a regulatory regime to include digital based taxi and ride share services in the ACT transport system is an ongoing process. PWD ACT recommends that the ACT Government establish a Stakeholder Reference Group including representatives from relevant ACT Government authorities, the Taxi Industry and people with disabilities to monitor the outcomes for people with disabilities of the introduction of new services and changes to the regulatory regime and to make recommendations for further user education and regulative action as necessary.