Ali Warsame is an accredited bus operator who owns a fleet of wheelchair accessible taxis in Melbourne. You can explore TaxiBus Melbourne Accessible Transport here

In the last five years, we have witnessed two of the biggest reforms in Victorian history: the taxi industry reforms and the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). In many ways, they go hand in hand. What does this mean for you?

The Problem

The 2012 Taxi Industry Inquiry identified several issues for people with a disability:

  • Long or unpredictable wait times
  • Poor driver knowledge and communication
  • Lack of services in outer metro, rural and regional areas
  • Feeling unsafe or vulnerable during travel, including worrying about being overcharged
  • Refusal of taxi drivers to pick up people who may only require a short trip
  • Hailing taxis or selecting from a rank being difficult for those requiring accessible taxis
  • People with assistance animals being refused service
  • Taxi travel being too expensive, even with the Multi-Purpose Taxi Program subsidy
  • Difficulties paying for taxis or booking through automated services
  • Inadequate complaints processes and poor following-up of complaints.

Many of these issues are unresolved, while others have been created. The Victoria government has taken steps to reform ‘point-to-point transport’ in Victoria and the taxi industry is now part of a crowded market led by Uber, Taxify, Oiii, Shebah, London Cabs, Ola, and others. At the end of February 2018, 35,812 Commercial Passenger Vehicles (CPV) were on Victorian roads; in July 2014, only 8,076.

Deregulating the taxi industry, revoking licences, and closing suburban depots will make the century-old taxi practically disappear, replaced by a tech-based industry providing good service, competitive prices, and control. Most are loving it, but if you’re disabled, these services are getting harder to access.

For wheelchair users, you’re forced to use wheelchair accessible taxis (WAT). At the end of February 2018, there were 556 WAT in the Melbourne metro area. Since the 2014 reform, this number has only increased by 10%, while conventional CPV numbers are up more than 70%. Of these 556, less than 30% are engaged with disability work, almost all through disability organisations – and they’re almost reliant on the Multi Purpose Taxi Program (MPTP) scheme. The remaining WAT drivers often aren’t interested in disabled customers, preferring to take passengers to the airport and wait there for an hour and a half to pick another group.

True, WAT drivers must pass the Taxi Services Commission’s (TSC) stringent testing, but the vehicle age limit has been removed, creating an unchecked and aging fleet. Uncertainty also surrounds whether MPTP will continue after the NDIS rollout. All these factors stop many startups from entering the sector.

The government says introducing an open and competitive market will put passengers first and create a more flexible, responsive and innovative taxi industry that provides better service, greater choice and lower fares, but it seems market forces won’t create better services for people with a disability. The taxi and hire car industry isn’t prepared for the NDIS and the administration associated with this funding model, so even those with transport funding in their NDIS plans are finding it difficult to access transport.  

My Experience

After being involved in the industry for over a decade, it is great to see the new TSC disability commission introduced, but the government needs to create more certainty in the sector. It’s clear more than market forces are needed to make a difference.

My opinion is that WAT minibus need to be part of general Bus Safety Risk Management so they can continue providing specialised services for people with disabilities with added accountability. The government needs to introduce and invest in better-suited vehicles, possibly smaller one wheelchair cars for those willing to provide a reliable and cost-effective service.

My Advice

In the meantime, here are some tips:

  1. Leave ample time. When calling big taxi companies, there is no guarantee you will get picked up on time, as the big taxi companies don’t have their own fleet. They rely on the discretion of the driver on the road, so ensure you leave ample time.
  2. Establish a relationship with multiple WAT drivers. Almost all WAT drivers work with informal groups and by knowing multiple drivers you will have access to their network. This increases the chance of having your booking covered, so exchange names and phone numbers and remember not all drivers work in all areas.  
  3. Be flexible if possible. If you use taxis regularly, don’t hesitate to negotiate. Taxis can be expensive compared to alternatives, so shop around. Always have an alternative driver to call, particularly in this changing environment.
  4. Explore registered providers. If you are NDIS customer, make sure you deal with registered providers who are willing to be flexible with cost. Always have a plan to confirm whether the provider is willing to negotiate.
  5. Be safe in the taxi. Your driver must use 4 straps plus a seat belt to secure your wheelchair. If they do not, always ask them to before the vehicle begins moving. Make sure the taxi meter is off while you are getting in and out of the taxi and always ask for a receipt.
  6. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you need additional help, ask your driver. Most WAT drivers will be happy to help with most things, such as carrying your shopping bags to your front door.
  7. Stay up to date on what is happening. It’s crucial to be informed about any changes and how they affect you. Check out the following resources from the NDIS here and TSC here.
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