Hiked-up fares and booking policies leave wheelchair-bound people in the lurch

Booking a last-minute taxi is impossible for Aucklanders confined to wheelchairs, a Herald on Sunday survey has revealed. And when they do get a taxi, they are charged extra.

The newspaper was contacted by mum-of-four Rachel Peterson, who has muscular dystrophy. She discovered how hard it was to get a taxi when she was pregnant and using an electric wheelchair. "They charge double and you have to book 24 hours in advance. What do you do if your baby is sick?"

She was quoted hundreds of dollars to get to the obstetrician in Mt Eden from Torbay.

Though our survey didn't reveal 100 per cent additional charges, every price we were quoted was more than what an able-bodied person would pay.


Taxi companies say that is because they have a limited number of vans with wheelchair hoists, and it takes drivers longer to complete the jobs.

Denise Ganley, of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, agreed the situation seemed unfair on people with disabilities. "It would be nice to think you could just ring up and get [a taxi] when you need to but you have to prebook, and you have to prebook your return. It's hard if you're going to a conference and you don't know exactly when you'll be finished - you have to guess."

Many wheelchair users have a Total Mobility card, which pays for up to half of a taxi fare. But taxi providers bump up their charges for wheelchair users.

The mobility scheme is run by regional councils, which offer funding to providers to install wheelchair hoists.

The Herald on Sunday acquired a list of the 23 Auckland providers that are meant to offer services for wheelchair users, and rang around to request a taxi.

Twelve required at least 24 hours' notice, eight did not offer wheelchair-hoist services at all, Warkworth Taxis said they would do their best but a couple of days' notice was preferable, Taxis United referred the request on, and Allways Mobility Transport did not answer.

Auckland Co-Op Taxis said if someone wanted to book a trip with a wheelchair, they would need to call a day in advance. They would then be called on the day and told when the taxi could arrive. "We have to fit it in."

Wheelchair users would then pay a tariff of $2.85/km and a flagfall of $5, compared with a standard fare of $2.75/km and flagfall of $3. Era Taxis charged an extra $20 in loading and unloading for the extra time it took.

Tim Reddish, of the Taxi Federation, said providers had to juggle taxi services for special-needs children with services for disabled people.

There wasn't enough demand to offer the services separately, he said, so it was difficult if a wheelchair-bound person needed a taxi when schoolchildren were travelling.

Have you had trouble booking a taxi as a disabled person?
Contact susan.edmunds@hos.co.nz.