WITHOUT help from the NSW Government, Bathurst might be a city without a wheelchair taxi in another five years.
That’s what accessibility advocate Bob Triming fears.
Mr Triming says the NSW Government needs to recognise the extra cost and competition faced by those considering buying a wheelchair taxi by offering grants to make the purchase more attractive.
The topic has been in the news after one of Bathurst’s two wheelchair taxis reached the end of its lifespan and was taken off the road.
The remaining wheelchair taxi, wheelchair user John Crasti told the Advocate in December, is almost constantly booked and has had maintenance problems.
“I'll get in the taxi and they'll say ‘we have 16 wheelchair bookings for the day’. That's flat chat,” he said.
In responding to Mr Crasti’s concerns, Taxi Cabs Bathurst Co-op chairman Jonathan Spence explained that taxi operators get no direct subsidies from the NSW Government to provide a wheelchair taxi, though the government provides wheelchair accessible vehicles to a number of service organisations.
Mr Spence said it cost more than $80,000 for a properly fitted out wheelchair taxi and the NSW Government’s latest round of its interest-free loan scheme for operators who wanted to purchase a wheelchair taxi had been “unviable and cumbersome”.
Mr Triming, the chairman/secretary of the Bathurst Regional Access Committee (BRAC), said the committee had been looking into the matter of wheelchair taxis in the city and had requested state Member for Bathurst Paul Toole’s help.
Mr Triming said it was not known by many people that the Taxi Cabs Bathurst Co-op members had been subsidising the operation of the wheelchair taxis in town.
He said the “growing number” of disability support services that had sponsored wheelchair accessible vehicles and the possibility of the Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme – where half the cost of the total taxi fare can be claimed back by those who are unable to use public transport because of a disability – being extended to Uber meant a wheelchair taxi was not seen as a “viable business venture”.
In a letter to Mr Toole, BRAC suggests the NSW Government should consider providing grants to regional taxi co-ops that are equal to the difference in cost between the purchase price of a standard taxi and a wheelchair taxi.
The cost of a new wheelchair taxi, Mr Triming said, “is well in excess of $80,000”.
BRAC also says the NSW Government should consider increasing the Incentive Claim Rebate of $15, which is used to compensate drivers for the additional time it takes to load and unload a wheelchair into a vehicle, and widening the eligibility to receive the rebate.
Mr Triming said he had sympathy for the Taxi Cabs Bathurst Co-op and the difficult situation in which it found itself in this debate.
“The Access Committee has the greatest admiration for the assistance the co-op has provided to wheelchair accessible taxis and to people with a disability and that's why we're supporting them in this battle,” he said.
“They [the co-op members] would like to see another WAT taxi, but who is going to pay for it?
“And the current [wheelchair] cab, it's permitted to be on the road for another five years, but realistically, it may be less than that.”