Ms ARMITAGE question to LEADER of the GOVERNMENT in the LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL, Mrs HISCUTT
This question relates to fees charged to people with physical disabilities who use taxi services in their daily lives.
Information on the Department of State Growth website includes a published list of maximum flagfall fees and tariffs for taxi clients. The flag fall fee for at least one person travelling in a wheelchair is $5.20. The flagfall fee for non-wheelchair-reliant passengers ranges from $3.60 to $5.10, depending on the area in which the taxi is operating.
Moreover, the waiting time charged throughout a taxi trip - such as when the taxi is in use but is going through slow traffic and not necessarily gaining much distance - for a person in a wheelchair is 73 cents per minute, or $43.77 per hour. For non-wheelchair-reliant passengers, this cost ranges from 64 cents per minute, or $38.25 per hour, up to 73 cents per minute, or $43.77 per hour.
Would the Leader please advise -
How can State Growth mandate the charging of different fees depending on whether a person is in a wheelchair, when section 24 of the Disability Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for a person to withhold goods or services or change the terms and conditions, or the manner in which they are provided, on the grounds of a person's disability?
(2) Why is the taxi industry a special case in this instance? What is to stop other travel or service industries from having a separate 'special rate' for wheelchair users?
(3) What of people who are in a wheelchair but are not entitled to an NDIS Smartcard? Does this not effectively financially punish people in wheelchairs for having a disability, whether temporary or permanent?
Mr President, I thank the member for Launceston for her question.
(1) The Government is committed to ensuring that people who are wheelchair-reliant have access to wheelchair accessible taxis for their travel. In many instances, specifically modified WATs are the only available mode of transport.
In the vast majority of cases, people who are wheelchair-reliant travelling in a WAT do not face unjustifiable hardship nor are they treated less favourably because they pay lower effective taxi fares than other taxi users.
People who are permanently wheelchair-reliant have access to non-means-tested taxi smartcards. They receive a discount of 60 per cent up to a limit of $30 on all taxi journeys made in a WAT. The discount of 60 per cent offsets the higher tariffs. This discount means they pay lower effective fares than other users of taxis. For example, the amount of taxi fare paid for a journey of 15 kilometres with eight minutes of waiting time during business hours in the Hobart taxi area is -
for a wheelchair-reliant passenger - after 60 per cent discount, they will pay $17.38
for a passenger travelling at the undiscounted cost - they will pay $37.82.
(2) The differential tariffs have been in place since WAT licences were introduced in 2004. The different tariff rates were originally intended to compensate drivers and operators for the additional time required to undertake a hiring when a wheelchair-reliant passenger travels in a taxi, which includes longer boarding time.
The subsidy is acknowledged as mitigating the effect of the higher fares, except in the case of long journeys, due to the $30 cap.
Government is aware of the concerns regarding the tariff differentials, but also notes that without compensation, drivers may not have sufficient incentive to give preference to wheelchair-reliant passengers. The effect of drivers being deterred could result in a reduction in services to wheelchair-reliant passengers.
(3) Any Tasmanian who is permanently wheelchair-reliant has access to a taxi smartcard, which provides for the 60 per cent discount. The Government has announced that National Disability Insurance Scheme participants will continue to have access to taxi smartcards until December 2023. This is notwithstanding that the National Disability Insurance Agency - NDIA - is responsible for providing transport support to NDIS participants.
The Tasmanian Government is leading work with the NDIA to ensure that NDIS participants are provided with funding through their NDIS plans to meet their reasonable and necessary transport costs.