Skip to main content

Wheelchair Accessible Taxi Inquiry report

Disability Disability Rights
Friday 14 December, 2012

Wheelchair Accessible Taxi
Inquiry report: Findings and Directions

Summary and recommendations
Introduction
Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport

Focus on response times
Consumer experiences
Private arrangements outside booking systems
Setting and monitoring of performance standards

Proportions of accessible taxis in fleets
Proportion of WATs to
WAT users

Other factors affecting adequacy of service
Relationship of fleet proportions to service outcomes

Regional WAT services and community transport

Reasons for low proportions of accessible vehicles

More active enforcement
Enforcement approaches alone may not be effective
Comparison with funding of other transport modes

Universal taxi and design issues
Marketing of accessible vehicles for mainstream use
Planning for accessibility

Appendix: Inquiry process

Summary and recommendations

Focus on response times: The draft Disability Standards
for Accessible Public Transport under the Disability Discrimination Act
require that (within 5 years from the authorisation of the Standards)
response times for accessible taxis should be the same as for other taxis.
Although not yet in force the Standards were approved in principle by
all Transport Ministers over 5 years ago.

This target of equal response times is contained in the draft Standards
rather than being an invention or imposition by HREOC. It reflects HREOC's
view of the existing requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act
- and in fact is a substantial compromise from those requirements in that
it refers only to booked services and not to taxis on ranks or hailed
and thus in principle allows the taxi industry and regulators to comply
by appropriate management of fleets having less than 100% accessible vehicles.

Consumer submissions to this Inquiry identify widespread problems of
severely late arrival or non arrival of accessible taxis. They emphasise
the impact of unreliable transport service on ability to participate in
employment, education and social activities.

Private arrangements: Despite these experiences it must be acknowledged
that many users do receive an effective service from the taxi industry,
often achieved only through private arrangements outside booking systems.
Generally positive experience for users of these arrangements needs to
be taken into account in assessing overall system performance, but it
also needs to be noted that these arrangements further reduce the
effective supply of accessible taxis for other users. It needs to be asked
why users need to negotiate a personal transport service instead of being
able to rely on an effective public transport service.

Performance standards and monitoring: It is surprising that in
most cases regulators have only recently moved to put in place and monitor
performance standards - for the industry generally and for wheelchair
accessible taxis in particular. In some jurisdictions standards are yet
to be set. HREOC urges all jurisdictions which have not already done so
to implement, as a matter of urgency, monitoring of wheelchair accessible
taxi services against appropriate performance standards; to publish regularly
(at least annually) the results of monitoring; and to consult with industry
and community representatives on means of addressing any deficiencies
in performance where these continue to be identified by monitoring. In
particular transport regulators need either to undertake effective enforcement
and monitoring of priority requirements themselves, or ensure that networks
have their own effective priority systems in place.

If regulators do not take prompt and effective action in this area, it
needs to be noted that the Disability Discrimination Act provides for
liability not only for bodies directly responsible for discrimination,
but for bodies causing or permitting discrimination. Monitoring of performance
appears essential to identify what and where additional accessible vehicles
are required and in what other measures should be taken to ensure effective
service. Those regulators which have better established systems of monitoring
of service standards are encouraged to share their experience with other
jurisdictions.

Proportion of accessible vehicles in fleets: Around 14% of taxi
licenses nationally are reported to be for accessible vehicles. Proportions
vary substantially around Australia between States and between different
regions. State by State figures reported are 5.4% for N.S.W.; just over
6% for Victoria; 10% for Queensland; just over 8% for Western Australia's
metropolitan fleet; around 7% for South Australia's metropolitan fleet
(with no detailed figures available for non-metropolitan fleets in these
two States); 9.4 % for the A.C.T; 4.9 % for the Northern Territory and
no figures being provided for Tasmania.

Several States point out that these figures represent a much higher ratio
of accessible cabs to WAT users than the ratio of taxis overall to general
taxi users, so that other reasons for less effective service need to be
examined as well as simple numbers of cabs. Industry submissions also
emphasise that there may not be a simple relationship between proportions
of accessible cabs and service performance.

Lack of accessible alternative services: Community submissions
point to a greater dependence on taxi services by people using wheelchairs
because of the degree of inaccessibility which still exists for other
public transport modes. Industry submissions argue that inaccessibility
of publicly provided transport modes presents a reason why funding responsibility
for accessible taxi service should be more completely accepted by government
as a public good.  

Additional time for boarding and unloading : Additional time for
boarding and unloading reduces the number of jobs an accessible taxi can
perform per day compared to a standard cab. Industry submissions, with
some community support, call for greater recognition of this in subsidy
arrangements. 

Impact of school transport requirements:
Many submissions refer to the demand on accessible cabs for school transport.
The transport requirements of students with disabilities cannot be regarded
as less of a priority than those of other people with disabilities. However,
HREOC encourages education authorities and transport regulators to consult
on possible means by which funding for school transport could be used
to increase availability of accessible transport for all needs (in conjunction
with the bus industry or community transport providers), instead of there
being competition for an inadequate supply at peak periods.  

Status as specialised vehicle:
Submissions emphasise that the status of WATs
as a specialised vehicle with small numbers in overall fleets means longer
average journeys to pick up passengers and hence less efficient utilisation.
This reasoning supports the strategy implemented through "maxi taxis"
of WATs being combined with other specialised
vehicle requirements, that is for vehicles delivering larger luggage space
and higher passenger occupancy, to increase their numbers within overall
fleets.  

Priority issues: However
this mixed use presents issues of priority for passengers using wheelchairs.
Submissions indicate that passengers using wheelchairs frequently not
only do not receive higher priority but actually receive lower preference
for jobs. 

Industry submissions propose incentives
to take passengers travelling in wheelchairs to offset additional loading,
unloading and empty running time (or increases in incentives where these
exist). Consumer and government submissions generally emphasise increased
enforcement of priority requirements. Some submissions call for a combination
of economic incentives and improved enforcement and monitoring. This combined
approach of enforcement and incentives appears to HREOC to be the most
likely to be effective. The appropriate form of incentives (whether through
contract payments as in Western Australia for a single company contracted
to provide WAT services, or operational subsidies to individual operators
as with Victoria's boarding time fees, or other approaches better adapted
to the circumstances of a particular region) requires consideration by
regulators in the context of particular markets. 

Are there enough accessible vehicles: The
lack of meaningful monitoring of performance in most jurisdictions until
recently makes it difficult to form definite conclusions about whether
the proportion of accessible vehicles in fleets is sufficient. HREOC proposes to revisit this issue in future when results of monitoring
are more widely available. Industry and government are encouraged to consult
nonetheless on means of increasing the supply of WATs. 

Regional towns lacking WAT service:
The difficulty of assessing whether there are sufficient accessible vehicles
does not apply in those places where fleets include no accessible taxis
at all. It is not acceptable that many regional towns with sizeable taxi
fleets have no accessible taxi service. There is a clear need for transport
regulators to examine how provision of accessible service might be made
viable or more attractive to operators in regions lacking accessible services.
This should include examination of the impact of funding for accessible
"community transport" vehicles on the viability of accessible mainstream
public transport. Where the specialist taxi regulator does not have a
role regarding non-metropolitan services, transport authorities need to
ensure by other means that appropriate attention is nonetheless given
to regional service issues. 

Universal taxi designs: Evidence
to the inquiry clearly indicates the desirability of a taxi design or
designs offering greater comfort and safety for WAT passengers as well
as greater acceptability to general taxi users. HREOC urges and Territory transport regulators to re-activate consideration of
issues of appropriate universal taxi design or designs and means of having
such a design or designs enter service as a substantial part of Australian
taxi fleets. Transport regulators, including the Federal government, should
examine possibilities for cost offsets for "universal taxi" designs, including
import costs. 

Compatibility of mobility aids with
taxis
: HREOC urges Federal and State transport regulators
to discuss with other relevant areas of government means for improved
information to consumers on compatibility of mobility aids with various
public transport modes. While most regulators have expressed support for
a certification process, a viable means of achieving this or who should
be responsible has yet to be identified. Submissions raise various views
regarding carriage of passengers riding on "scooters" in taxis. There
is a need for definitive safety rulings from relevant regulators rather
than drivers and passengers being left uncertain and disputes arising
at the point of boarding.  

Marketing of accessible vehicles
for mainstream use:
, which
as noted has reported no difficulty in filling recent subscriptions for
WAT licenses, also reports substantial effort and success in marketing
vehicles as multi-purpose vehicles so as to enable these vehicles to derive
acceptable financial returns. Industry and government in other jurisdictions
are encouraged to consider experience in promoting mainstream use of accessible taxis. 

Planning for accessibility: Many transport
operators in other transport modes have already embarked on programs of
implementation of the draft Disability Standards for Accessible Public
Transport, in some cases through development and provision to HREOC of
an Action Plan under the DDA. HREOC encourages the taxi
industry to consider similar approaches to planning for compliance with
the Standards, in consultation with consumers. Whether or not the draft
Standards receive final authorisation in the near future, HREOC urges
those taxi regulators which have not already done so to commence regular
publication of reports on performance in WAT service, including progress
towards achieving equal response times, and to ensure that these reports
are notified to HREOC, to industry and consumer bodies and to regulators
in other jurisdictions.  

Introduction

Effective access to transport
is one of the keys to participation in our society - in education, in
employment, in social and cultural and political life.

This is no less
true for people with disabilities. Public transport in its various forms
is particularly crucial to those people whose disability prevents them
from driving or whose low income makes them reliant on public transport.
These issues have particular (although not exclusive) relevance to people
with physical disabilities, including people who use wheelchairs.

For these reasons,
the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has given great
emphasis to access to public transport in its work under the Disability
Discrimination Act.  

We have sought to encourage and assist
in practical progress and practical solutions to transport access issues:
in negotiation of national standards for accessible public transport;
and more directly in negotiations, complaint processes and action plan
and exemption based processes that have seen accessible buses and accessible
railway stations appearing in increasing numbers around Australia, and
that this year have seen accessible trams begin to appear in Melbourne.

Despite the progress made in
these other transport areas, the day when most people with disabilities
will be able to use bus, train or tram systems which are fully accessible
is, in most cases, still many years away. Also, in many cases even an
accessible bus, train or tram route will be too far from a person's home
or destination to reach or will not provide the most direct path of travel.

So the taxi
industry is and will remain an essential part of the picture in accessible
public transport.

State and Territory
governments around
provide substantial subsidies to people with disabilities for taxi use.

In at least
some cases this has been done partly in recognition of their previous
failure to ensure accessibility of their own public transport systems.
This includes, for example, the construction of inaccessible stations
for the Eastern Suburbs Railway in Sydney in the 1970s and the acquisition
of inaccessible buses and other vehicles in some cases until even more
recently (and until well after their own introduction of disability discrimination
provisions in equal opportunity legislation in the early 1980s in several
cases). Recognising that taxpayer funds have subsidised and continue to
subsidise operation of government owned or franchised urban bus and rail
transport systems, people with disabilities to whom these systems are
not yet fully accessible naturally regard provision of subsidy for alternative
accessible transport as no more than a matter of simple equity rather
than any special generosity. 

Extensive resources have been invested
by some members of the taxi industry in acquiring accessible vehicles
and by governments in regulatory systems. 

HREOC is not claiming a monopoly of knowledge about
accessible taxi services - but we have been concerned by widespread evidence
that in many areas existing services not only do not provide people reliant
on wheelchair accessible taxis (WATs) with equal
access to mobility, but do not provide a realistically effective service
at all. 

HREOC has received a number of complaints
from time to time under the Disability Discrimination Act, and a much
larger number of less formal representations, regarding delays or unreliability
in having taxi bookings met for people with disabilities who require taxis
to be wheelchair accessible. 

This inquiry was commenced in the hope
of making a contribution to improving this situation - if only by highlighting
the issues and facilitating the sharing of knowledge and experience. 

Considerable knowledge and experience is presented in
the submissions from community, industry and government sources, which
are available on the HREOC Web site - see www.humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights/inquiries/taxi/subs.htm
- in response to questions in the notice of inquiry we issued earlier
this year.  

These submissions make proposals for
improved booking, monitoring and enforcement systems; for more effective
economic incentives for effective service provision; and regarding the
appropriateness and safety of existing accessible cab designs and possibilities
for a "universal taxi" to form at least a substantial part of fleets. 

This report seeks to synthesise the
views and information presented in submissions, and in subsequent discussions
with consumers, regulators and taxi industry representatives. It is not
intended as the last word on these issues, but rather as identifying directions
to be pursued by government and industry into the future. 

Disability
Standards for Accessible Public Transport

Draft
Standards for Accessible Public Transport were approved in principle by
the Australian Transport Council in 1996 after extensive negotiations
and approved in full by Federal Cabinet in October 2000, subject to some
revisions, after lengthy regulatory assessment processes. As at October
2001 the draft Standards still await the final step of tabling in Parliament.

These standards
are intended to provide transport operators and consumers alike with more
detail and certainty about their rights and responsibilities than is provided
by the very general existing anti-discrimination provisions of the Disability
Discrimination Act and equivalent provisions in State and Territory discrimination
and equal opportunity laws.

The draft Standards include
a requirement that response times for accessible vehicles are to be the
same as for other taxis. This is stated as being required to be achieved
within five years of the date when the Standards take effect (that is,
when they are approved by the Parliament).

It has been submitted to HREOC
in this inquiry that a requirement for equal response times, on average,
for WATs as for other taxis both is economically unachievable
fo rthe industry in present circumstances and misses the point that the
greatest concern is not with what may be a small difference between average
waiting times for WATs and for other taxis, but with those smaller number of
instances where WAT users face much longer delays or where a taxi never
comes at all (such as some examples given in consumer submissions).

However, for the purposes
of this inquiry, HREOC has used the draft Standards for Accessible
Public Transport as they are. In this respect the draft Standards remain
the same as they were when endorsed in principle by all Transport Ministers
in 1996, as they have been publicly available since that time, and as
they were developed by industry, consumer and government representatives
prior to that.

Parties who
are of the view that modified targets would be more appropriate than those
presently contained in the draft Standards should consider  

  • Making recommendations for amendment of the Standards
    through the ongoing consultative processes established by the Australian
    Transport Council (in which all States and Territories and the taxi
    industry are represented alongside consumers) and/or
  • Applying to HREOC for an exemption under the DDA reflecting an
    approach to achieving compliance with the objectives of the DDA which
    may be better adapted to their own circumstances.

The focus of
the draft Standards on waiting times for booked services as the key performance
requirement for taxi services acknowledges in effect that, for the present
at least, equal opportunity to hail cabs on the street is not required
to be achieved for passengers requiring wheelchair accessible taxis. Equality
of opportunity in hailing cabs would require 100% fleet accessibility,
or at least close to it, but it appears possible in principle at least
to deliver equal response times for booked services with considerably
less than an 100% accessible fleet - so long
as that fleet is appropriately managed.

The requirements
of the draft Standards for taxis contrast, therefore, with the requirements
for most other transport modes, where movement to 100% accessibility of
buses, trains and so on is required - albeit over a longer time frame
and subject to possible instances where this would involve unjustifiable
hardship.

Submissions
in this inquiry have given further emphasis to concerns previously raised
with HREOC, that this modified target of equal
response is in many areas of
far from being achieved.

So long as Standards remain unauthorised,
the existing general non-discrimination provisions of the DDA remain
applicable. These provisions clearly make it unlawful to provide less
prompt or less reliable service to passengers with disabilities than other
passengers. Equally clearly, this is subject to an exception where and
to the extent that achieving equal service would impose unjustifiable
hardship. What is less clear is how these provisions apply in particular
circumstances.

A major reason
for the co-operative development of the draft Accessible Public Transport
Standards - by public and private sector transport providers, disability
community representatives, transport regulators and HREOC - was the undesirability,
for transport providers and consumers alike, of transport accessibility
being determined through litigation and the uncertain application of general
anti-discrimination provisions.

HREOC continues
to regard the Standards and the co-operative method of their development
as the appropriate means for planning the transition over time to accessible
public transport systems for .
This includes accepting the modified target for taxi services - equal
response times for booked services instead of equal access to all services
including hailing on ranks and on the street - as the result of extensive
negotiations and as part of the overall package of the standards to achieve
accessible transport systems over time.

However, the
standards are not yet in force and have now been delayed substantially
beyond the initial expectations of all parties concerned.

This has meant that: certainty
of rights and responsibilities remains to be achieved; and the reviews
of the operation and effectiveness of the Standards (including in relation
to taxi accessibility), which were scheduled to occur five years after
the introduction of the Standards, have yet to be concluded. For these
reasons also HREOC regarded an inquiry in this area as timely.

Focus
on response times

The
main focus of this inquiry has been on delays or unreliability in having
taxi bookings met for people with disabilities who require taxis to be
wheelchair accessible.

Other issues
- including lack of proper use, maintenance or fitting of securing equipment,
and the compatibility or otherwise of some mobility aids with travel in
some or all taxi designs - are referred to from the perspective of effective
use of accessible fleets rather than being the major focus of the inquiry
in their own right.

In addition to the focus of the
draft Standards on response times, one reason for the specific focus of
the current inquiry is that the issue of response times - arrival significantly
outside the time expected and experienced by other passengers, or non
arrival at all - does not appear readily able to be dealt with by use
of complaint mechanisms established by taxi regulators, since it appears
to involve more systemic issues of booking systems, proportions of accessible
vehicles in fleets, and the economics of providing service to passengers
requiring wheelchair accessible taxi service. 

Consumer
experiences

Submissions
commenting on the draft version of this report questioned whether there
was an adequate basis in reliable data for a conclusion that overall service
levels particularly in NSW and Victoria were unaccetably poor.

It is clear that insufficient performance data has been
availablel in the past in most Australian jurisdictions, HREOC looks to
industry and regulators to improve collection and publication of data
particularly when the Accessible Public Transport Standards come into
force.

A major purpose of this inquiry, howeer, has been to
direct attention to consumer perceptions and experiences.

Consumer submissions identify widespread
problems of severely late arrival or non arrival of accessible taxis,
as well as issues regarding safety and comfort of travel. They emphasise
the problems which a lack of reliable transport poses for equal participation
in employment or education, or for the ability to meet with family or
friends. Numerous incidents of people being stranded for hours in frustrating
or frightening circumstances are provided in the submissions available
on HREOC's web site. 

The main priority for HREOC in a public
inquiry process such as this is to assist industry, consumers and government
in working towards solutions, rather than only highlighting problems. 

A few examples, however, help to illustrate
the concerns which have been raised in this inquiry. Some of these refer
to experiences in waiting for taxis at ranks rather than only to the booked
services which are the subject of this inquiry and of the performance
requirement in the draft Standards. These comments are included here however
because

  • until the draft Standards are actually in force taxis
    on ranks also remain subject to possible complaints under the DDA; and
  • they serve as a reminder that in requiring equal
    response for booked services only rather than also for ranks and hailing,
    the Standards in the view of the disability community already represent
    a considerable compromise.

Ms M.Paterson
explained the importance of accessible transport: 

"I need taxis to be reliable and safe
so I can live my life.  I want to be able to go out at night and
not worry that I will be stranded waiting for a taxi at a late hour. 
I want to be able to book a taxi and know it will arrive on time and not
have to waste an hour waiting and ringing the call centre to remind them
I'm still waiting.  I don't want to constantly worry that I will
be late for a meeting or look unreliable to my work peers for not turning
up.  And most especially, I need to know that my wheelchair - on
which I rely absolutely - is being transported safely and in one piece,
along with me."

Mr M.Bagshaw,
a frequent business traveller, commented:

"I have experienced
extensive delays in all capital cities of this country. I have sat at
taxi ranks and watched the queue of standard taxis stretch as far as I
could see, and waited for over an hour while an accessible taxi made its
way to me. When using the taxi service I make every effort to book at
least an hour in advance, and yet I have missed flights, meetings, appointments
and been late to numerous events as a result of waiting for an accessible
taxi. This is far from a decent service. This is exacerbated at peak travel
times, for example, at the end of the schooling and working day.

I have travelled
to other cities overseas where the majority of taxis are accessible and
have been amazed at the difference. There is no issue regarding waiting
or booking taxis at all. When in , I am able to hail any passing taxi for use. There is no need for
a designated service, a particular phone number for booking and importantly,
I never had to wait for my taxi longer than anyone else."

The Physical
Disability Council of NSW
advised that several participants in community
forums conducted by them reported delays of over four hours in waiting
for accessible taxis and that all participants reported instances of waiting
over an hour.

Several submissions
emphasised the impact of unreliable transport service on ability to participate
in employment, education, and social functions.

Mr J.Carter
from provided
a log of experiences on a visit to (presented
here in edited form):

"Booked Saturday
for 9am pickup
- arrived . . Booked for pickup - arrived . Booked for

- Not arrived by after several follow up calls and Club approaching closing time. Dispatcher
called a cab from an airport rank. . Booked for
pickup - arrived . Booked
for - arrived 1.50am. . Booked
for (restaurant closing ) - taxi arrived .
Harassed by a group of youths while outside waiting
for taxi."

Mr D. Davis
told of calling from to seeking a previously booked cab to take him to a family lunch function
in
- the cab finally arrived at 3.30 but naturally he and his wife missed
the lunch - as well as experiencing cabs arriving two hours late in .

The Disability
Advocacy Service Hunter
provided the following consumer experience:

"I rang the taxi service on Tuesday
April 3 to make a booking for the following Saturday - April 7. I was
told there wasn't a chance of getting a booking as all available spots
were taken. When I asked the operator how many WAT's
were going to be out that day she said she wasn't allowed to tell me.
She then told me I should have booked in advance. I said I thought I
was booking in advance, but she told me I should have booked 3 weeks in
advance."

Ms D.Parker
of told of
a 12 year old boy waiting until on a wet and cold night following a swimming
session, for a cab pre-booked for . Several participants
in hearings for this inquiry also gave evidence of similar incidents where
children were stranded for some hours following sporting events while
waiting for an accessible taxi.

Several submissions
referred to people missing specialist medical appointments due to non-arrival
of accessible taxis.

Another dimension
was provided by Ms L.Dowling, a social worker in the NSW Hunter region, who
told the story of a family fleeing domestic violence:

"We were able to get the mother
and babies to a refuge in the early afternoon. The teenager in the wheelchair
had to wait till evening before we could get an accessible taxi for her.
This was extremely frightening and a very tense situation for all."

A different
form of delay due to insufficient effective supply of accessible taxi
transport was noted in the submission of the Northcott
Society, based in western . This submission gave several instances of taxis which although they
arrived on time to collect the passenger, arrived over an hour late at
the destination, due to delay and diversion en route to collect multiple
hires, without any prior consultation with the original hirer.

Private
arrangements outside booking systems

Despite these
experiences, it should be acknowledged that many users do receive an effective
service which they value highly.

Submissions
indicate that 70 to 80 per cent of WAT trips are arranged privately outside
of "official" booking systems.

The users who
are party to these arrangements report much higher satisfaction with the
service than appears to be the case for general users. As pointed out
in submissions, however, the result of these arrangements is that users
seeking to book a cab outside these arrangements however have a drastically
reduced effective supply of cabs to call on.

Several submissions
call for a ban on private arrangements including a ban on mobile phone
bookings. However, other submissions question whether such restrictions
can ever be effective. Clearly such a ban would not be favoured by the
current majority of WAT users who are party to such arrangements. The
real issue appears to be why users need to be negotiate a personal transport service instead of being able
to rely on an effective public transport service - whether because of
deficiencies in systems for connecting consumers with services or because
of a lack of sufficient service to go around.

Evidence at hearings for this
inquiry referred to instances where WAT passengers hand over more government
taxi subsidy dockets than the number of trips actually performed as part
of the price of a private arrangement for taxi service. As pointed out
by disability community representatives at these hearings, such behaviour
would constitute fraud which cannot be condoned and which consumers have
a responsibility not to engage in and to report to appropriate authorities.

It seems clear
from submissions that in many parts of wheelchair accessible taxi users do not receive a satisfactory transport
service. The main issue for discussion then is what can be done about
it.

Setting
and monitoring of performance standards by taxi regulators

The Australian
Quadriplegic Association commented:

"Since the inception
of the WAT Service in 1981, WAT passengers were advised to book a taxi
the day before it was needed but also expect a delay of around 1 hour.
Many people with disabilities accepted this as it was a new service and
there were few available WAT's. Since these times the expectations of people with disabilities
have increased ."

Taxi regulators
in some but not all jurisdictions are now monitoring performance against
standards for timely service, and have provided comparative figures on
service for WAT users and other passengers.

Given the longstanding
status of the taxi industry as a regulated industry, it is surprising
that in most cases regulators have only recently moved to put in place
and monitor performance standards - for the industry generally and for
wheelchair accessible taxis in particular. In some jurisdictions standards
are yet to be set and performance monitoring is yet to commence. In the
absence of performance requirements for service to consumers, it appears
reasonable to question just what regulators have hitherto been regulating,
and why or to whose benefit.

(This comment
does not apply to all jurisdictions, the South Australian Passenger Transport
Board submission for example pointing to results of performance monitoring
over several years.)

HREOC urges
all jurisdictions to implement, as a matter of urgency, monitoring of
wheelchair accessible taxi services against appropriate performance standards;
to publish regularly (at least annually) the results of monitoring; and
to consult with industry and community representatives on means of addressing
any deficiencies in performance where these continue to be identified
by monitoring.

It does not
appear possible or appropriate to recommend a single model for monitoring
and enforcement of standards across , or to identify
uniform actions in achieving equal service which are uniformly necessary
and will be uniformly effective across .
HREOC expects that taxi regulators, industry and consumers in each jurisdiction
ought between them to be able to summon considerably more expertise on
appropriate measures to secure equitable taxi service than a body in HREOC's position is able to.

For example, in some areas use
of GPS (Global Positioning System) technology to direct the nearest available
accessible cab to pick up a passenger using a wheelchair may be an important
part of improving service, but in other instances this technology may
not presently be readily available or effective.

In these circumstances
the regulatory approach taken by the Western Australian Department of
Transport appears to have much to commend it: setting performance standards
and holding networks accountable for meeting those standards, without
specifying in detail what approach industry should take to get there.

In parallel
with overall performance monitoring, it is essential that consumers should
have access to effective information on the status of bookings they make
(that is, when a cab can be expected to arrive) and access to well publicised
means of complaint regarding particular instances of lack of effective
service as well as in relation to issues of safe carriage and fares charged.

For a regulated
industry it appears simply absurd that complaints on these issues should
need to come to a national human rights commission. 

Rather than multiple individual instances
of inadequate service needing to be brought to HREOC under the Disability
Discrimination Act (and to State and Territory equal opportunity authorities
under equivalent State and Territory legislation), a more appropriate
role for a body in HREOC's position is to ensure
that industry specific regulatory regimes operate appropriately to prevent
discrimination on a more systemic basis.  

This inquiry is in part an attempt to
pursue that role through open and co-operative discussion.  

It needs to be recognised, however,
that if regulators do not take prompt and effective action in this area,
the legislation does provide other means for pursuing equal service provision,
through the complaint process.  

The Disability Discrimination Act provides
for liability not only for bodies directly responsible for discrimination,
but for bodies causing or permitting discrimination (see section 122). 

Unless they can show that they have
taken effective steps to ensure non-discriminatory service, taxi regulators,
permitting as they do fleets to operate with only small proportions being
accessible vehicles, would be highly likely to be exposed to liability
for permitting any discriminatory results which occur in taxi service
provision (under the existing provisions of the DDA at present, and under
the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport, when and if
those enter into force, so far as booked services are concerned).  

It may well be, as argued by most government submissions,
that effective setting, monitoring and enforcement of service standards
offers a more efficient and effective means towards equitable service
for people dependent on wheelchair accessible taxis - but acceptance of
this argument for legal rather than only for theoretical purposes obviously
requires that effective setting, monitoring and enforcement of service
standards actually be in place. Otherwise, the potential continues to
exist for liability simply for permitting inaccessible vehicles to operate.
The nature of responsibilities for access is more complicated for the
taxi industry than for other transport modes but this does not mean that
no responsibility can or would be found. 

At a practical level, monitoring of
performance appears an essential step in identifying what and where additional
accessible vehicles are required and thus in determining what further
measures should be taken to ensure that sufficient accessible vehicles
are on the road, in operation and with priority being given to passengers
dependent on WAT service in jobs taken by drivers. 

Those regulators which have better established
systems of monitoring of service standards are encouraged to share their
experience with other jurisdictions. 

Proportions
of wheelchair accessible taxis in fleets

Official national
figures for accessible taxis were not provided to this inquiry. One of
the benefits of the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport,
when these finally are authorised, is that the Australian Transport Council
decision to monitor progress nationally towards the targets set out in
the standards will then take effect. As noted above, however, this is
yet to happen.

Mr Angus Downie's
submission provides a convenient national overview, indicating that nationwide
a total of 1,026 accessible taxi licences - or about 14 % of the total
fleet - have been released, and that of those 1,026 licences, 793 are
in metropolitan cities and 233 in rural and regional areas.

Attention is also needed however
to substantial variations in WAT availability between jurisdictions and
between different regions.  

NSW:

The
overall proportion of WATs in the NSW taxi fleet is reported as 5.4% and the proportion
for is similar.

A number of
submissions refer to results of an Australian Quadriplegic Association
survey of accessible taxi fleets in NSW outside as follows: 

Town/Region

Population

No of Taxis

No of WATs

No of People per WAT

Albury

41 491

28

3

13 800

Armidale

21 330

16

3

7 000

Ballina

16 056

8

4

4 000

26 029

27

1

26 000

Broken Hill

20 963

21

1

21 000

227 657

73

13

17 400

Cessnock

17 540

14

2

8 500

/ Sawtell

35 417

18

4

9 000

Dubbo

30 102

20

2

15 000

Foster-Tuncurry

15 943

7

4

4 000

Goulburn

21 293

28

1

21 000

Grafton

16 562

14

1

16 500

14 209

11

2

7 100

Katoomba

17 700

22

1

17 700

Kiama

11 711

5

1

11 700

Kurri-Kurri

12 555

6

1

12 555

Lismore

28 380

27

3

9 500

Maitland

50 108

31

2

25 000

270 324

157

5

52 000

Nowra

23 823

13

4

6 000

30 705

31

1

30 700

Port

33 709

15

7

4 700

Queanbeyan

25 689

16

1

26 000

Richmond-Windsor

21 317

8

2

10 600

Singleton

12 519

6

2

6 250

31 865

22

3

10 600

Taree

16 702

14

1

16 700

37 775

20

3

12 500

Wagga Wagga

42 848

29

5

8 000

219 761

127

5

44 000

These figures
are presented in detail to show that there is not a simple division between
urban and regional experience - rather there is substantial variation
in the accessible proportion of cab fleets, from less than 3% in some
cases to 50% or more for some small fleets. The much poorer ratios of
WATs to population in and the
low fleet proportion accessible were one reason for the inquiry conducting
a hearing there, which confirmed correspondingly poor service outcomes.
Some other regional centres have similar proportions of WATs
to population but HREOC's limited resources
did not permit hearings in those centres to examine experience in detail. 


Victoria

The Victorian
Taxi Directorate provided the following figures:

Metropolitan taxis
3209 includes 168 wheelchair accessible (or around
5.2%)

Outer Suburban
taxis

(Frankston & Dandenong) 139
includes 16 WAT's (around 11.5%)

Ballarat
55 includes 5 WAT's (around 9%)

42 includes 4 WAT's (just
under 10%)

125 includes 13 WAT's (just
over 10%)

Country taxis
433 includes 48 WAT's (or
around 11%)

TOTAL 4003
includes 254 WAT's (or just over 6%)

The striking
feature for is that the proportions of
WATs in rural and regional fleets overall are
higher than those for the metropolitan area. Some submissions also indicate
better service outcomes in some regional areas than in metropolitan .


Western
Australia

The Western Australian Department of
Transport indicates that in the metropolitan area there are 81 accessible taxis out of a total fleet
of 1005, or just under 8.1%.

Outside this submission
does not give the same level of detail of proportions accessible. However
it does indicate that while Kalgoorlie, Mandurah, Bunbury, Geraldton,
Broome, Albany, Karatha, and Busselton have
some accessible services, in Carnarvon there appear to be no WATs
out of 24 taxis; in Port Hedland none out of
22; in Collie none out of 11; in Derby none out of 7; in Esperance none
out of 6; and no WATs present in any of the
smaller fleets in other centres. 


South
Australia

The South Australian
Passenger Transport Board indicates that in the metropolitan area there are 68 accessible taxis comprising approximately
7% of the fleet. Figures for non-metropolitan were not provided
(being outside the PTB's jurisdiction) but
this submission notes that some towns lack any accessible taxi service
due to lack of economic viability. 


Queensland

The Queensland Department of Transport
advises that 10% of the fleet overall is accessible, with proportions varying from none in
some regions to 30% in others.  


Tasmania

Figures for have not
been provided at this point. 

A.C.T.

The A.C.T. Department
of Urban Services indicates that 20 new licences released in 1999 and
2000 have brought the number of WATs to 26 out
of a current fleet of 243 taxis, or just under
9.4%. 


Northern
Territory

The submission from Northern Territory Health Services
referred to figures for taxis, private hire cars and mini buses. To enable
comparison with figures from other jurisdictions for taxis only, figures
were subsequently provided for taxis only, which indicate that at the
time of the submission there were 9 wheelchair accessible taxis in the
out of a total
fleet of 184, or 4.9%. 7 accessible taxis were located in Darwin and
2 in Alice Springs.  

Proportion
of WATs to WAT users

A number of community
submissions refer to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures indicating
around 19 per cent of the community as having a disability. However, other
submissions point out that the relevant figure for present purposes -
the number of people who rely on wheelchair accessible taxis - is a much
smaller proportion of the population, in the order of half of one per
cent. Not all people with a disability use wheelchairs and not all wheelchair
users need or prefer to ride in a WAT (remaining seating in their wheelchairs)
rather than transferring to a seat in a standard taxi.

This is not
of course to dismiss the needs of people who do require WATs,
only to provide an accurate starting point for discussion. It also needs
to be recalled that the proportion of wheelchair users in the population
is likely to rise with continued ageing of the Australian population.

The South Australian
Passenger Transport Board provided information as follows:

"In ,
there are currently 68 wheelchair accessible
taxi licences for a known market of around 5,000 users (i.e. members of
SATSS who rely solely on wheelchairs for mobility). There are around 1,000
general taxi cabs for the rest of the population in metropolitan of approximately 1.1 million
people. Wheelchair accessible vehicles comprise approximately 7% of the
taxi fleet. These equate to: 1 wheelchair accessible vehicle to every
(approximately) 70 wheelchair users; 1 general taxi cab to every (approximately)
1,100 people."

The Victorian Taxi Directorate
submission indicates similar proportions of vehicles to users, even with
a relatively low proportion of the fleet (5.9%) being accessible: "The
Statewide ratio of wheelchair accessible taxis
to wheelchair user population (as calculated from the Multi Purpose Taxi
Program membership) is 1 accessible taxi for every 80 wheelchair users."

In the
reported proportion of accessible cabs in the total fleet is 5.4% and
while low relative to some other States, this is still around ten times
the proportion of people who use wheelchairs and are reliant on WAT service.

Given these figures it needs
to be asked why, rather than response times and reliability for WAT users
being significantly worse than for general taxi users as evidence indicates,
they are not instead overwhelmingly better than average.

Other
factors affecting adequacy of service:

Greater
reliance on taxis by WAT users

Community submissions point to
a greater demand for taxi services by people using wheelchairs than by
other members of the community because of a lack of alternative means
of transport. Submissions argue that WAT usage would be significantly
higher than it already is if the service were more reliable.

The NSW Taxi Council/Victorian
Taxi Association submission, among others, points to a greater degree
of reliance by WAT users on taxi transport compared to other members of
the community, and points in this respect to large scale inaccessibility
which still exists for the public transport modes which perform the major
mass transit task in Australian cities - bus, train and tram. This submission
argues that since the taxi industry is presently attempting the task of
providing accessible mass transit which publicly provided transport modes
are not yet ready to perform, funding responsibility for accessible taxi
service should be more completely accepted by government as a public good.

However industry
has also noted that taxis are not well placed to perform mass transit
tasks in peak periods compared to higher volume transport modes (bus tram
and train). HREOC therefore regards the taxi industry's comments in this
area as an argument for other transport modes to press ahead with achieving
accessibility, rather than as an argument that they need not do so since
the taxi industry could perform the task instead. The issue of funding
for the taxi industry is considered further later in this report.

Boarding
and unloading time

Several submissions
point out that additional time required for boarding and unloading also
reduces the number of jobs a WAT can be expected to perform per day compared
to a standard cab. Industry submissions with some support from disability
community submissions call for recognition (or greater recognition) of
this in subsidy arrangements.

Impact
of school transport requirements

Many submissions
refer to reductions in the number of accessible cabs available in peak
periods due to demand on these cabs to provide school transport.

Physical accessibility
of dedicated school bus services is exempted from the general requirement
of the draft Standards for Accessible Public Transport for all bus services
to become accessible over the next 20 years, because the cost of achieving
a 100% accessible school bus fleet was assessed as disproportionate to
demand. Although it should be noted that these services are to remain
subject to the general anti-discrimination requirements of the Disability
Discrimination Act, it is likely to be many years before most children
with physical disabilities are able to use accessible school bus services.
Even where provided, accessible bus services as defined in the Standards
may also fail to meet the needs of some children. Hence a particular demand
may remain on WAT services in the morning school and work peak period
and (possibly less severe in impact) at the end of the school day.

As recognised
by some submissions, the transport requirements of a school student can
hardly be regarded as less legitimate or pressing than those of other
members of the community. The issue is rather what might be done about
this factor contributing to a mismatch between peak demand and supply
for accessible transport.

HREOC encourages
education authorities and transport regulators to consult on possible
means by which funding for school transport could be used to increase
availability of accessible transport for all needs instead of there being
competition for an inadequate supply at peak periods.

One possibility
which HREOC suggests transport regulators could examine in consultation
with education authorities is whether there is any scope for some funds
presently applied in purchase of accessible taxi services, to substitute
for accessibility of the main school transport, instead to be applied
as incentives to bus operators to accelerate transition to accessible
fleets.  Another issue is the relationship
between school and community transport.

Status as specialised
vehicle within fleets

Dr Jack Frisch's
submission in particular emphasises that the status of WATs
as a specialised vehicle with small numbers among overall fleets implies
longer average journeys for pickup of passengers using wheelchairs. Hence
there is less efficient utilisation of each WAT cab than standard cabs,
requiring a higher proportion of WATs to users
than general cabs to general users to deliver equivalent service.

This may have
a particularly severe impact in larger cities given the spread out nature
of Australian cities. On this basis it might be reasonable to conclude
that Sydney and Melbourne, despite their larger absolute numbers of WATs
than other centres, also require a higher proportion of accessible vehicles
in their fleets to deliver an effective service rather than the lower
proportions that they actually have relative to other capitals.

The South Australian
Passenger Transport Board notes that similar issues apply to bookings
of other specialised vehicles within taxi fleets such as station wagons.

This issue would of course be minimised
if price differentials between standard taxis and accessible taxis were
reduced sufficiently to require 100% fleet accessibility - whether through
lower license fees, other forms of subsidy, or technical developments.

Even if a 100% accessible fleet is regarded
as unjustifiably expensive, this reasoning supports WATs
at least being combined with other specialised vehicles,
that is those delivering larger luggage space or higher passenger
occupancy. This strategy has in fact been adopted
to some extent with the "maxi-taxi" approach. As noted below, however,
this approach also presents some problems.

Priority for passengers
using wheelchairs

While WATs
are required at least in theory to give priority to work from
wheelchair users, they are not a dedicated service reserved exclusively
for people with disabilities.

The Victorian
Taxi Directorate notes for example that a smaller dedicated fleet would
be likely to be able to provide a much more efficient service, but that
this would require a greater government contribution to provide a reasonable
operator income in the absence of an ability to take general taxi fares.

"An alternative
(as discussed previously) to the combined use of accessible taxis for
wheelchair and conventional bookings would be for the booking network
(or agent) to exclusively "hire" the required number of accessible taxis
to cover demand between (say)
and .
These taxis would then be used exclusively for wheelchair bookings and
as the drivers would be paid continuously during the hired time, could
be directed to cover all bookings irrespective of location or length of
journey.

In a manner similar to the mainstream
public transport route services, the fares collected from the passengers
would be used to partially off-set the cost of providing the service.
It is estimated that an arrangement of this type in metropolitan would add around $2.4M annually to the Multi Purpose Taxi Program
budget."

The approach
of licensing WATs to take general business as well as people who specifically
require wheelchair accessible transport appears a reasonable strategy
on an economic basis, and on the basis of the strong preference of people
with disabilities to be served as far as possible by mainstream rather
than segregated services. In the transport area this rests in part on
reported experience that transport provided by mainstream transport providers
is generally more effective and economical than "paratransit"
from organisations which are not professional transport providers.

Mixed use of
WATs however clearly presents two sets of issues:
first, it means that the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles required
to service the market is higher than if a completely dedicated service
was used; second, it presents issues of whether passengers requiring wheelchair
accessible transport actually receive higher priority (to offset the lack
of accessibility of the majority of cabs) or whether they in fact received
lower priority.

Issues of effective
priority for passengers using wheelchairs have been raised consistently
across ,
indicating that passengers using wheelchairs frequently not only do not
receive higher priority but actually receive lower preference.

Some community
submissions ascribe this to operator prejudices or lack of appropriate
awareness. Other submissions however point out that drivers of WATs
should in general be expected to be less affected by prejudice or ignorance
than the general population and that attention should be given in the
first instance to market issues of incentives and regulation.

Submissions
from industry bodies propose incentives to take wheelchair work (or increased
incentives where some operational incentive already exists as in ). Consumer
and government submissions generally emphasise increased enforcement of
priority requirements.

A few submissions,
such as that provided by Dr Jack Frisch, call for a combination of economic
incentives and increased enforcement and monitoring. These issues are
discussed further later in this report.

Relationship
of fleet proportions to service outcomes

The discussion
above indicates that there is considerably more to the issue of effective
WAT service than the simple proportion of WATs
in taxi fleets.

Nonetheless, relatively low levels
of fleet accessibility at least in NSW and Victoria appear a substantial
part of the reason for higher reported levels of dissatisfaction with
services - although those States are also the subject of industry and
consumer dissatisfaction with regulatory arrangements, acknowledged in
recent changes to booking systems in and in moves
to adopt hitherto lacking performance standards and monitoring.

The NSW Taxi
Council and Victorian Taxi Association call for the DDA standards on accessible
public transport to give a more explicit percentage requirement for accessible
fleets to supplement the current general performance requirement.

A number of
other submissions, however, take the position that the percentage of accessible
vehicles in a fleet is not the decisive determinant of whether equal response
times are achieved.

For example
the ACT Taxi Proprietors' Association stated in its submission that "it
is not considered appropriate to nominate a particular percentage of the
fleet as being the "sufficient" number of WAT taxis".

The Victorian Taxi Directorate provides the view of a consultant engaged
by them to conduct a competition policy review of the taxi provisions
of the Transport Act as follows:  

"it
would be wasteful, inefficient and extravagant to continue down the path
of issuing further wheelchair accessible taxi licences simply to comply
with an arbitrary figure set by the Commonwealth. The issue is not
about inputs, it must be about service outcomes".

Although it
is not clear what is meant here regarding an arbitrary figure set by the
Commonwealth since no such figure has in fact been set, the point being
argued is otherwise clear.

The Western
Australian Department of Transport makes similar points:

"In general terms the answer
to whether there is enough MPTs in the taxi
fleet to meet the needs of people with disabilities is
yes. The extent of trips made by taxi by people with disabilities is relatively
low. There is at any one time throughout the week significantly less that
10% of the MPT taxi fleet occupied undertaking taxi trips with people
with disabilities, excluding private taxi trips. The quandary that these
statistics raise is that if it is believed that the size of the fleet
is sufficient then why isn't the level of service better. If there are
sufficient taxis in the taxi fleet in order to meet the needs of people
with disabilities then the way to improve service is through fleet management.
Performance standards have been in place since . The
Taxi Unit is hopeful that the performance standards process provides a
clear and substantial opportunity to improve performance of the MPT fleet
for people with disabilities."

Queensland Transport
similarly stated that it

"does
not consider that fleet proportions and vehicle-to-population ratios are
an effective means of managing demand as they do not necessarily correlate
to actual service delivery. Service delivery can be impacted by a range
of factors such as topography, urban density, urban sprawl, traffic and
road conditions and even weather. Driver and booking company behaviour
and despatch practices also impact significantly on service delivery.
For example, in ,
thirty percent of the taxi fleet is accessible. However, waiting times
for wheelchair accessible services still fall well below the stated targets.
On the other hand, only seven percent of the fleet is accessible in Bundaberg
and targets are being achieved."

However, this
comment should not be taken to mean that the proportion of accessible
vehicles is viewed as completely irrelevant to service outcomes - since
for some years Queensland Transport has been applying a policy of requiring
all new licenses to be for accessible taxis, until 10 per cent fleet accessibility
is reached.  

Regional
WAT services and community transport

The lack to date of figures from
meaningful monitoring in most jurisdictions makes it difficult to come
to definite conclusions on whether the proportion of accessible vehicles
in fleets is sufficient - and thus whether attention should be directed
only to issues of effective fleet use, enforcement of priority for people
travelling in wheelchairs in access to WATs,
and adequacy of incentives for drivers to take WAT work, or whether and
where there is a need to increase the proportion of WATs
in fleets.

HREOC proposes
to revisit this issue in future when results of monitoring are more widely
available.

This difficulty
however does not apply regarding those places where fleets include no
accessible taxis at all.

It is not acceptable
that many regional towns even with quite sizeable taxi fleets have no
accessible taxis. In these circumstances issuing of taxi licenses without
requiring accessibility appears to involve particularly strong potential
for liability under the DDA.

For these regional
towns there is a clear need for transport regulators to examine means
by which provision of accessible taxi service might be made viable or
more attractive to operators.

This should
include examination of the impact of funding for community transport on
the viability of accessible mainstream taxi transport, and possibilities
for redirection of funds from purchase of community transport vehicles
to subsidising capital costs of accessible taxis in appropriate cases.

The Victorian
Taxi Association and Taxi Council of NSW argue strongly that community
transport services, particularly in rural areas, "have the effect of distorting
the economics of disabled Taxi services, by taking some but not all work"
and that a significant majority of these services could be more cheaply
and efficiently delivered by the Taxi fleets, particularly in rural and
regional areas.

's taxi industry similarly raised concerns regarding the impact on
accessible taxi services in rural and remote areas of public and charitable
subsidies to community transport. They refer to

"well
meaning donations of buses by H.A.C.C. or casino funds. These operate
in direct competition with the private taxi operator, who is already trying
to supply a needed service in marginal economic circumstances. Two possibilities
could assist this disastrous scenario. Direct government
funding to the taxi operator of the price difference between a conventional
sedan and the wheelchair accessible vehicle, and /or direct purchase of
a number of contract hours from the taxi operator, using the funds that
are now used to supply the bus. This would improve the viability
of a marginal operation and assist its continuity."

HREOC urges transport regulators,
together with other relevant areas of governments, to assess the impact
of HACC or other community transport funding on supply of accessible transport
through the taxi industry and consider means of improving cross government
coordination of programs for provision of accessible transport. We also
urge the taxi industry to pursue possibilities for closer cooperation
with organisations which fund or provide community transport, and vice
versa.

Where the specialist
taxi regulator does not have a role regarding non-metropolitan services,
transport authorities need to ensure by other means that appropriate attention
is nonetheless given to regional service issues.

Reasons
for low proportions of accessible vehicles

HREOC accepts
views not only from industry but from a number of community submissions
that where accessible taxis are not present at all in fleets or are present
only in insufficient numbers, this is most likely
to arise principally from economic factors rather than from prejudice
or lack of information.  

Some submissions call for the taxi industry
to focus less on profit and more on public service. The reality of this
industry as it operates in , however, is that
it does in fact operate on a private enterprise basis. In most cases drivers
operate as individuals and many cab owners own only a small number of
vehicles, so that there is less scope than in other transport modes for
more financially rewarding services to cross-subsidise uneconomic work
as a public service.  

Submissions and evidence at public hearings
for this inquiry have emphasised that the issue is not only one of number
of accessible cabs on the road but also of preparedness of drivers to
drive them and to take jobs from passengers travelling in wheelchairs. 

The inquiry has received evidence from
several sources of inadequate driver income and inadequate incentives
to take WAT passengers. 

The conclusion is unavoidable that if
drivers cannot put food on the table by driving WATs
(or owners by owning them) then they simply will not drive or purchase
them, whatever their individual attitudes to people with disabilities.
 

Similarly, for those who are driving WATs, if jobs serving passengers travelling in wheelchairs
are significantly less financially rewarding than other work it would
be surprising to see these passengers getting a higher priority for services
or even an equal turn - at least in the absence of very close monitoring
and enforcement. 

The focus of this inquiry is on booked
services. It should also be noted however that many submissions raised
issues of discrimination where accessible vehicles were present on the
street or particularly on airport ranks but refused to carry a passenger
using a wheelchair because of a preference for more lucrative group bookings:
see for example the submission from People with MS Australia.  

People who are refused carriage because
of their disability should consider using complaint services established
by transport regulators and/or by the industry. Regulators and industry
need to ensure that complaints are acted on effectively. 

More active
enforcement

It
appears clear from consumer experience reported to this inquiry that more
active enforcement is justified for requirements for priority to passengers
using wheelchairs, given the issuing of licenses for WATs
at much lower cost than for other cabs on condition of such priority.
Transport regulators need either to undertake effective enforcement and
monitoring of priority requirements themselves, or ensure that networks
have their own effective priority systems in place. 

Enforcement
approaches alone may not be effective

However, enforcement
approaches alone may not be effective in all circumstances - particularly
in view of the fact that the owner who benefits from a lower license cost
and the driver who makes decisions about which jobs to take are commonly
not the same person.

Industry representatives
refer to additional capital costs for accessible taxis. The joint submission
from the NSW Taxi Council and Victorian Taxi Association gives a figure
of $45,000 for a new standard taxi fully fitted, with $75,000 or more
for an accessible taxi. They also make the point that the generally lower
value of wheelchair accessible taxi licenses, although a benefit in buying
a license, makes it more difficult to finance vehicle capital requirements.

Accordingly
industry submissions call for increased capital support from government
for WAT services.

This is queried
in other submissions which point to the effective subsidy involved in
licenses being issued free or at a heavy discount.

HREOC is not
in a position to make definite conclusions on this issue. However, recent
experience with take up of WAT licenses in some jurisdictions provides
some evidence.

It is hard to see a justification
for additional capital subsidy on a statewide
basis in when the regulator there reports recent license issues not only as
fully taken up but as oversubscribed. In such a situation the principal
issue appears to be rather that of securing appropriate access and priority
for people using wheelchairs to these cabs, whether through improved incentives,
enforcement or booking and monitoring technologies or a combination of
these.

The Victorian
Taxi Directorate notes that in recent years the only new taxi licenses
issued have been WAT licenses and that the most recent issue had 98% takeup.
This might cast some doubt on whether additional capital subsidy for WAT
licenses is in fact required in . However, given the low proportion of WATs
in relative some other jurisdictions there may nonetheless be a need
to examine incentives for holders of existing licences to acquire and
operate accessible vehicles.

By contrast,
the lack of full subscription of recent WAT license issues in NSW seems
strong evidence that the package is not sufficiently attractive. The NSW
Department of Transport's submission notes that the poor take up rate
of recent WAT license releases indicates that supply of WAT licences is
not an impediment to increasing the availability of WATs on the road, and that impediments of more significance
are the economic viability of such a service, and the availability of
suitable drivers.

Whether this
reflects a need for further cost offsets or direct subsidy, or rather
reflects other issues highlighted in industry submissions regarding regulatory
uncertainty for the industry requires further consideration by government
in consultation with industry and community representatives.

NSW Department
of Transport's submission identifies capital issues - a 2 wheelchair requirement
for accessible cabs and the additional purchase cost of accessible vehicles
-as relevant economic barriers.

As noted by
this submission, a requirement for accessible cabs to carry 2 passengers
travelling together in wheelchairs is a requirement imposed by the NSW
regulator itself, rather than by the draft Disability Standards for Accessible
Public Transport.

As already noted
the NSW Taxi Council in its submission raises issues of capital cost (and
impacts of regulatory uncertainty on investment) and calls for direct
capital subsidies as well as tax relief on importation of accessible vehicles.

However industry also emphasises
operational issues - that is, the lack of sufficient income generated
to make carrying of passengers travelling in wheelchairs sufficiently
attractive. In addition to the Taxi Council submission these issues were
also emphasised by operators at hearings in the Hunter region in particular.
It is not clear whether any currently proposed initiatives in NSW address
this issue. Recent initiatives outlined in NSW Transport's submission
appear to deal with enforcement and monitoring issues but not with incentives.

The Victorian
Taxi Directorate's submission notes reductions in that State from 1999
of up to $2000 in stamp duty payable on accessible taxis, and provision
by government of a $6.60 surcharge designed to compensate the driver for
additional loading and unloading time.

In ,
the Department of Planning and Infrastructure regards a different approach
to incentives (combined with their recently improved approach to setting
and monitoring of performance standards) as likely to be effective. In
the taxi market
(which is smaller than that for Sydney or Melbourne) the approach has
been to tendering for a single preferred WAT provider and to make the
contract sufficiently economically attractive that there is an incentive
to gain and keep the contract by meeting performance standards.

The appropriate form of incentives
(whether through contract payments as in Western Australia for a single
company contracted to provide WAT services, or operational subsidies to
individual operators as with Victoria's boarding time fees) requires consideration
in the context of particular markets. Further consultation between industry,
government and consumers on how to increase effective supply of WATs
to consumers in each jurisdiction and in different area within jurisdictions
appears desirable. Jurisductions which consider
that no further economic incentives are required are encouraged to provide
further information on alternative approaches which they consider more
appropriate.

The substantial
spending by government on subsidies to users has to be acknowledged. This
only accentuates, however, the need for all jurisdictions to ensure that
they set, monitor, and ensure public accountability in relation to, appropriate
standards for the effectiveness of the service being purchased. 

Comparison
with funding of other transport modes

Industry
submissions draw attention to public funding being applied to achieving
accessibility for other transport modes. 

provides substantial subsidies to the private bus industry to encourage
acceleration of the transition to an accessible fleet. Other jurisdictions
such as NSW and Victoria do not provide equivalent specific subsidies
to the private bus industry, beyond the more general forms of support
incorporated in payments for school transport. All public operators are
investing substantial resources in acquiring accessible vehicles - although
these are generally being acquired in the course of normal fleet replacement
schedules and the cost premium for accessible vehicles is not substantial
where the now standard industry product of low floor buses can be used. 

Urban rail passenger services in
are operated by or on behalf of governments in all cases. Rail accessibility
involves substantial additional costs where retrofitting of existing inaccessible
infrastructure is required, with figures of over $1 million per station
applying depending on the structures concerned.  

It may be argued on this basis that
except for very heavily patronised stations, a subsidy even for the full
difference between the price of an accessible cab and a standard cab would
give a better cost/benefit ratio in achieving benefits to people using
wheelchairs compared to government investment in rail accessibility.

However, part of the economic justification
for accessible train and bus services is increased accessibility to wider
population groups - people with prams or small children, older people,
people with other disabilities.

Some accessible cab designs do
not achieve comparable wider benefits, and in fact appear to be less useable
by and attractive to these user groups. An exception to this however
is reported success in promoting "maxi-taxis" for use as high occupancy
vehicles, by groups or by people with luggage as at airports. In fact
submissions raise concerns that maxi taxis are so effective as mainstream
vehicles that it is difficult to get them to fulfil demand specifically
as WATs .  

Universal
taxi and design issues

Part
of the purpose of the concept of a "universal taxi" is to achieve a vehicle
which does deliver benefits for use and acceptance by other passengers,
and hence for operator income, at the same time as providing safety and
acceptable levels of comfort for passengers riding in their wheelchairs.

Submissions
express strong concerns regarding the safety of some designs of WAT and
regarding the comfort of most current designs.

Dr Frisch's
submission calls for further investigation of barriers to importing higher
quality wheelchair accessible taxis.

This submission
and a number of others argue that most existing accessible taxi designs
in
are either uncomfortable for wheelchair users or unsafe.

Several submissions
make a connection between the design of some wheelchair accessible cabs
and the reported resistance to using wheelchair accessible cabs by passengers
who do not travel in wheelchairs (with consequent effects on driver income
and willingness to take up licenses for or drive these cabs).

Mr Angus Downie's
submission raises issues of accessibility of current wheelchair accessible
cab designs to elderly users in particular. He also raises safety issues
for wheelchair users regarding hoist boarding, as well as safety and comfort
issues regarding securing and alignment in vehicles. He particularly criticises
"flash cabs" for lack of compliance with Australian Design Rules requirements
on rear end or rollover crash safety.

Other community
submissions including the Physical Disability Council of Australia, the
Disability Council of NSW and the Australian Quadriplegic Association
support further investigation of options for universal taxi designs and
of barriers to their adoption in the Australian taxi market.

In particular
these submissions call for attention to the import duty and tax treatment
of accessible vehicles. Mr Downie also calls for government support for proposed establishment
of universal taxi manufacturing in
to a European "TaxiRider" design which he assesses
as meeting 's draft standards as well a other passenger
requirements.

Industry submissions
from around
note the higher capital costs for proposed universal taxis.

Although other
submissions point out that costs would be lower if a universal taxi was
adopted as a standard vehicle, in HREOC's view it must be accepted that for the foreseeable
future the cost of an accessible vehicle taxi meeting "universal taxi"
objectives will be substantially higher than for a standard sedan. The
price differential at present is such that it appears highly likely that,
except where significant cost offsets or other forms of subsidy are available,
taxi owners would be able to argue successfully that it would impose unjustifiable
hardship to require them to operate only accessible taxis. (This is not
to prejudge whether the same result would apply where there is a significant
capital or operating subsidy in place.)

The Notice of Inquiry asked whether
a completely accessible taxi fleet was necessary and if so what might
be done to achieve this. Some community submissions did call for a fully
accessible taxi fleet - for example the Physical Disability Council of
NSW calls for 100% fleet accessibility within 10 years.

Industry and
government submissions however all argue strongly that 100% fleet accessibility
is not economically achievable.

A very helpful
submission from Dr Jack Frisch provided some economic analysis indicating
that requiring all cabs to be accessible would be difficult to justify
economically - unless additional costs of accessible vehicles were to
fall close to sedan taxi levels; or unless a standard taxi design were
adopted for other reasons, in which case it ought to be an accessible
design; or unless the requirement were for equal results for hailing taxis
on the street rather than for booked services (which under the draft Standards
it is not but which remains an available position for complainants to
argue for under the existing discrimination provisions pending authorisation
of Standards).

Whether a "universal taxi" should
be achieved as a substantial part of fleets and whether the whole fleet
should be accessible are clearly separate questions in HREOC's
view. HREOC also does not believe that discussion of universal taxi approaches
presupposes mandating a single design - since in principle a number of
different vehicles might meet the same set of universal design criteria.

Evidence to
the Inquiry clearly indicates the desirability of a taxi design, or designs,
offering greater comfort and safety for WAT passengers as well as greater
acceptability to general taxi users.

HREOC urges
and Territory
transport regulators to re-activate consideration of issues of appropriate
universal taxi design or designs and means of having such a design or
designs enter service as a substantial part of Australian taxi fleets.
Transport regulators, including the Federal government, should examine
possibilities for cost offsets for "universal taxi" designs, including
import costs. 

Single design or several designs
of accessible vehicle

A number of
submissions refer to economies of scale in adopting a single accessible
taxi design. However other submissions point to issues of limiting consumer
choice in such an approach.

It is not clear
that a single standard design of WAT should be mandated.

In particular, although current
maxi taxis or high occupancy vehicles may not be the ideal in comfort
for people using wheelchairs, these vehicles are not subjected to the
same severity of criticism in submissions as the "flash cab" approach.
Accessible high occupancy vehicles clearly do serve a definite mainstream
market (including tourist and airport use) which makes it economically
possible to have more accessible vehicles on the road than would otherwise
be the case.

Also, even if
these vehicles were on the road principally for group use, there would
be stronger justification for requiring all such vehicles to be accessible
than for all standard cabs. The probability that a random group of six
people contains one person requiring wheelchair access is very close to
six times the probability that an individual passenger in a standard cab
is such as person.

One space
or two

Some
submissions express concerns that not all accessible cab designs permit
two WAT users to travel together.

Clearly, it is desirable that
some vehicles should cater for this requirement for cases where a couple
or other associates are both WAT users. However, HREOC does not accept
that this means that all WATs must accommodate two passengers travelling in wheelchairs.
After very extensive consultation and analysis the requirement in the
draft Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport was set at
one rather than two. Many WAT users will be travelling either
alone or with partners, friends or other associates who do not
require a wheelchair allocated space in a taxi. In the standards process
it was concluded that requiring two spaces as standard could not be justified
and might lead to less WAT service overall.

Compatibility
of mobility aids with taxis

Evidence
to the inquiry highlighted the inability of taller people seated in most
designs of electric wheelchair to enter or ride comfortably in some current
WAT designs. 

In some cases because of the nature
of his or her disability the passenger may have no real choice about the
design of mobility aid used. In recognition of this the draft Standards
do call for entry height for WATs to increase
over time to allow a greater proportion of WAT users to board and alight
more comfortably. 

In other cases, however, compatibility
of taxi and mobility aid may rather be a matter for wheelchair users to
consider in selecting an appropriate mobility aid. It cannot be assumed
that in order to achieve compatibility between a public transport vehicle
and one of the great variety of wheelchair designs in use it is always the public
transport vehicle which can and should change. 

There is a clear need for better consumer information
on compatibility of mobility aids with public transport vehicles. The
draft Accessible Public Transport standards are accompanied by guidelines
which state some "assumptions about mobility aids" to provide a start
towards better consumer information. However taxi industry submissions
state strongly that this material does not provide sufficient guidance.
HREOC urges Federal and State transport regulators to discuss with other
relevant areas of government means for improved information to consumers
on compatibility of mobility aids with various public transport modes.
While most regulators have expressed support for a certification process,
a viable means of achieving this or who should be responsible has yet
to be identified. Pending this, industry and passengers remain exposed
to considerable uncertainty. 

In particular, submissions raise various views regarding
carriage of passengers riding on "scooters" in taxis. HREOC's understanding from transport regulators is that most
scooters and passengers riding on them simply cannot be safely secured
in a taxi. If a person and their equipment cannot be carried consistent
with safely obligations there is no discrimination in refusing to carry
them (or at least requiring them to transfer). Clearly however there is
a need for definitive safety rulings from relevant regulators rather than
drivers and passengers being left uncertain and disputes arising at the
point of boarding.  

Marketing
of accessible vehicles for mainstream use

Although
submissions do not address this issue directly, there is a possibility
that in addition to issues with the suitability of current vehicle designs,
some of the reported reluctance of general taxi users to use WATs
may be not because of prejudice against people with disabilities and hence
against use of vehicles associated with disability, but because of a desire
to give priority to people with disabilities or potentially a belief that
vehicles marked with the accessibility symbol are reserved exclusively
for disability use.

, which as noted has reported no difficulty in filling recent subscriptions
for WAT licenses, also reports substantial effort and success in marketing
vehicles as multi-purpose vehicles so as to enable these vehicles to derive
acceptable financial returns.

As already noted, WATs
performing mainstream taxi work presents issues of priority and effective
availability for people using wheelchairs, which need to be addressed
by appropriate enforcement and incentive approaches. Almost all submissions,
however, accept that WATs need to have shared
use between people with disabilities rather than being an exclusive or
dedicated service - in the interests of economic viability for accessible
cabs and driving these cabs as well as on grounds of concerns about the
effectiveness and appropriateness of segregated services more generally. 

Industry and government in other jurisdictions
are encouraged to consider experience
in promoting mainstream use of accessible taxis. 

Planning
for accessibility

Many
transport operators, both public and private
sector, in other transport modes have already embarked on programs of
implementation of the draft Disability Standards for Accessible Public
Transport.

In some cases
this has been accompanied by development and provision to HREOC of an
Action Plan under the DDA and in some instances a temporary exemption
has been applied for and granted to protect operators from liability while
they implement actions committed to in their action plans.

Further operators in the rail, coach and aviation industries
are considering Action Plans at present. In some cases these are being
developed at the level of individual enterprises and in some cases on
a wider industry basis.

HREOC encourages the taxi industry to consider similar
approaches to planning for compliance with the Standards, in consultation
with consumers.

When the Australian Transport Council endorsed the authorisation
of the draft Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport, it
also decided that once the Standards were in force there should be regular
reporting to the ATC on progress in implementation of the Standards. This
would include reporting on performance in the taxi industry and progress
towards meeting the target at the five year point for equal response times
for WATs as for other taxis. 

As already noted in this report, however,
authorisation of the Standards has been delayed very substantially beyond
the initial expectations of all parties concerned, with more than five
years having already elapsed since their approval in principle by the
ATC in June 1996.  

Whether or not the draft Standards receive final authorisation
in the near future, HREOC urges those taxi regulators which have not already
done so to commence regular publication of reports on performance in WAT
service, including progress towards achieving equal response times, and
to ensure that these reports are notified to HREOC, to industry and consumer
bodies and to regulators in other jurisdictions. 

Appendix:
Inquiry process

A Notice of
Inquiry
was issued on requesting submissions by 3 July. Responses were requested on the
following issues:  

Response times:
Are response times significantly longer for passengers requiring wheelchair
accessible taxis than other passengers making taxi bookings in any part
of ?
 

Proportion of taxi fleets accessible:
What proportion of existing taxi fleets is wheelchair accessible?  

Are these proportions sufficient:
Is the proportion of taxi fleets which is wheelchair accessible insufficient
in any areas of Australia to enable services to be provided to passengers
requiring wheelchair accessible taxis, with equivalent reliability and
waiting times to those for other passengers booking taxis? If so, what
proportion of taxi fleets being accessible would be sufficient?  

Measures to ensure sufficient proportion
accessible
: What measures have transport authorities
taken or could they take to ensure that a sufficient proportion of taxi
fleets is accessible?  

Universal taxi:
If 100% fleet accessibility (the "universal taxi" approach)
is necessary or desirable to ensure fully equal access to services (whether
to achieve access to hailed services as well as booked services, or to
reduce problems regarding priority for wheelchair user passengers, or
to increase general public acceptance of wheelchair accessible vehicles,
or for other reasons), what measures may be feasible and necessary (currently
or within a reasonable period) to make possible the achievement of this
level of accessibility? 

Dedicated services: What experience or issues are there with operation
of wheelchair accessible taxis as a dedicated service rather than also
being available for mainstream service?  

Economic factors: Are there any economic disincentives
to provision of wheelchair accessible taxi services (either in provision
of accessible vehicles or in their use to serve passengers using wheelchairs)
which could be addressed by taxi regulatory authorities, by other relevant
government agencies or by industry? In particular:  

  • Issues affecting capital or running costs of accessible vehicles
  • Any other distinctive costs in providing wheelchair accessible services
  • Fare structure and fares income received for wheelchair accessible
    taxis in comparison to other taxi services .

Effective
use of accessible fleets
: Are there any regulatory
or technical measures being taken or which could be taken which would
ensure that any given level of accessible taxi fleet meets demand for
wheelchair accessible taxis more effectively? In particular:

  • Possibilities for more effective implementation or enforcement
    of priority systems including issues affecting use of GPS and other
    new technologies, and barriers to effectiveness of priority systems
  • Relevant performance standards and licence conditions
  • Clarification of responsibilities of booking services, taxi operators,
    regulators and any other relevant industry participants
  • Issues regarding competition or co-ordination of services
  • Measures to ensure accessible taxis are complete with necessary
    equipment and driver skills to ensure accessible service with an equivalent
    degree of safety to other passengers is available in practice
  • Issues regarding compatibility of different types or sizes of
    wheelchairs or other mobility aids with accessible cabs and possibilities
    for certification or consumer information regarding public transport
    compatibility of these aids
  • Issues regarding co-ordination with or substitution for other
    modes of accessible public transport (generally or for specific purposes
    such as school transport), including relationship to "community
    transport" services

86 submissions
were received, including from taxi regulators and industry bodies in most
States and Territories and from consumers around .
Of these, 71 were submitted electronically and made available on the Commission's
web site : see www.humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights/inquiries/taxi/subs.htm
.

The submission
process was followed by a small number of face to face hearings and meetings.
Participants were invited to provide comments on submissions by other
parties and to discuss possible solutions to problems identified in submissions.