Hamilton will continue its trend of being a national leader in accessibility with free travel on all public transport for disabled people via an accessibility concession beginning this month.
More than 100 people were on hand at the Blind Foundation this week to hear about the ins and outs of the concession, including details surrounding eligibility.
Anyone with a disability that results in them being unable to drive is eligible, including those with physical, intellectual, psychological, sensory or neurological conditions.
Those currently under the Total Mobility Scheme will automatically qualify for the concession and people with temporary disabilities exceeding six months will also be able to apply.
The free travel will be available on all Hamilton city bus routes as well as regional services from Huntly, Pukekohe, Raglan, Paeroa, Cambridge and Te Awamutu for disabled people that meet eligibility requirements.
Family caregivers and support workers will not be included in the concession, one of the rare points of concern raised from disability advocates due to the high number of disabled people who need assistance to travel.
The concession is estimated to cost Waikato Regional Council around $150,000 to implement, and with concerns over adding further costs, the decision to include support people and caregivers was shelved.
Manager of Public Transport Operations at the WRC, Andrew Wilson, said the public would be able to make submissions on whether to include free travel for family caregivers and support workers in the future.
"One of our challenges is affordability, the more we make it free for the wider group the less affordable it becomes in terms of funding the operation," Wilson said.
The concession continues a trend for Hamilton as a city leading the way for "New Zealand first" public transport initiatives directly targeted at disabled people.
In 2014, Hamilton became the first city to have a fully accessible fleet of buses, and from August 1 becomes the only city and wider region to have completely free public transport for disabled people.
Hamilton city councillors Dave Macpherson and Paula Southgate were excited about what the concession will mean for improving the lives of disabled people and how it will reflect on the region.
"The disability community itself was pushing this, it wasn't some bright idea by councillors, the people were saying this is something they really needed to improve their lives," Mr Macpherson said.
Ms Southgate said equal access to services is a basic human right and that the concession will allow disabled people to enjoy access to the same services, places and event as others.
"This gives disabled people the same rights, we are about wellbeing of people and this is a way we achieve the wellbeing for those with disabilities in our community," Ms Southgate said.
Getting the accessibility concession across the line was thanks, large in part, to Hamilton woman Joy Ho.
A disabled bus user herself, Ms Ho campaigned for free public transport for all disabled people and managed to secure more than 2500 signatures in a petition to the regional council last year.
Ms Ho was presented with the first accessibility concession photo ID card, handed to her as a large cardboard placard by the council to say thanks for the hard work she put in.
"I'm really happy and can't wait to get out and explore more of the Waikato. Hopefully heaps of other disabled people will too," she said.
The application process is done via an assessment with a local disability agency or GP. Once the application process is complete, an accessibility concession photo ID card will be issued for use on bus services.