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Presentation to Queensland Taxi Council forum

Disability Rights

Presentation to Queensland Taxi Council forum

12 September 2006, Toowoomba

Graeme Innes
Human Rights Commissioner and Commissioner responsible for Disability Discrimination
Speaking notes only

Graeme Innes

Disability Standards for Public Transport

  • Purpose of standards: Provide greater certainty to industry and people with disabilities about what level of access is required under the Disability Discrimination Act and when it has to be achieved; reduce need for all parties to go through complaint processes to find out
  • Standards drafted 1995-6 by working group involving federal and state transport regulators, disability community representatives and industry representatives
  • Endorsed in principle by Australian Transport Council ministers in 1996
  • Entered into force 2002 after delays for regulatory impact assessment and technical review

Content of standards 

  • Intended to combine flexibility and certainty by giving specifications that could comply by meeting while also allowing performance based compliance.
  • May be that could be improved in how they meet both these objectives of flexibility and certainty having regard to experience both in implementation of these Standards and in subsequent development of standards on other areas under the DDA
  • More specifications provided for buses, trains than for taxis

Main features for taxis:

  • Unlike other modes there is no requirement that all taxis have to be made accessible over time or for all new taxis
  • Rail, bus ferry coach and air (other than small aircraft) all have to get to 100% access - albeit over 20-30 year period and with allowance for unjustifiable hardship defences and possible exemptions
  • All new conveyances for these other modes from 2002 on have been required to be accessible
  • Buses for example face 25% accessibility requirement by the first 5 year point in December 2007

Taxis are not subject to the same requirements as other modes, because at least in 1995-96 when drafting the standards it was thought that requiring 100% taxi fleet accessibility would be too onerous given

  • Fleets then mainly made up of standard sedans
  • Costs in buying and operating non-standard vehicles
  • Different industry structure to other modes - single vehicle bailments rather than fleets operated by same operator
  • Diversity of customer requirements - standard sedan vehicle suits some people with disabilities better than vans etc

Key requirement:

  • Had to ensure same response times for customers booking accessible cabs as those for other cabs
  • Not applied to hailing on street or ranks
  • Has to be achieved by first 5 year compliance point
  • Responsibility was put on radio co-ops : needed to be somewhere other than an individual taxi operator who might only have one, inaccessible cab

Other key features:

  • Boarding needs to be accessible but it was not specified by what method boarding should be achieved - ramp or hoist, side or rear
  • Only one wheelchair space was required by standards - two was proposed but it was decided this would be too onerous and too restrictive on the types of vehicles that could be used
  • The standards contain some assumptions about mobility aids that can be accommodated in the allocated space required.
  • Some issues were left covered by more general DDA anti-discrimination provisions, for example direct refusal of service because of a passenger's disability, or because accompanied by a guide dog etc

Like the DDA the standards reflect an expectation that some additional service may be required for passengers with a disability as a reasonable accommodation.

It might be discussed though whether they set the line clearly enough about what accommodations are required and when any additional service for this purpose must be expected as part of the standard fare and whether and when operators can expect some additional payment.

Review of the Standards

It was recognised at time of drafting that the Standards would need review in the light of experience.

A provision was included requiring the Federal Minister for Transport in conjunction with the Attorney-General to conduct a review after 5 years of review of the efficiency and effectiveness of the Standards within 5 years after they take effect, including  whether discrimination has been removed, as far as possible, according to the requirements for compliance set out; and any necessary amendments to the Standards.

If the Standards had entered into force in 1996 as most of us expected of course, we would now have already had the first review and be coming up for the second. But they didn't .

The process and the timing of the first review are still being discussed by Ministers and among the Accessible Public Transport national Advisory Committee, which again includes representatives of each transport regulator, the disability community, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and of course from industry including the taxi industry.

What the Commission has been saying for a while now both to industry and community representatives is that while the two Ministers and their Departments are the ones with responsibility for conducting the process of review, the content really has to come from the people who know most about public transport, as those who deliver and use the services.

Possible issues for review:

  • Specifications for vehicles and infrastructure
  • what does equal response time mean?
  • Should it only apply to booked services?
  • Is there a need for requirements on proportions of fleets?
  • Where should responsibility sit?
  • How should compliance be measured and monitored?
  • Should standards refer in more detail to service issues?
  • When is it discriminatory to charge extra for extra time in providing services?

HREOC inquiry

HREOC conducted an inquiry back in 2003 on taxi response times to promote discussion of some of these issues. This was not a comprehensive review but it was intended to promote discussion of ways of improving outcomes.

The inquiry found

  • Varying percentages of fleets were accessible around Australia
  • Queensland had one of highest percentages
  • Perceptions of problems nationally
  • Difficulties in measuring response times

Recent industry input

Industry participants made the following points at a forum conducted by the Taxi Council earlier this year in Brisbane:

  • It is misleading to say that accessible taxi licenses are discounted as a subsidy to industry - they are traded at the market rate - if that is lower than that for other licenses that is a reflection of the economic problems in providing WAT services
  • Range of user requirements to cater for requires a range of vehicles even within WAT fleets; improved information systems would assist in matching; industry is looking for some reassurance on privacy issues in collection of this data and matching against phone/booking details
  • Incentives and disincentives need discussion rather than just assuming that regulation will produce results by order
  • A smaller number of vehicles within fleets able to accept a job requiring an accessible taxi necessarily implies a longer average journey to commence job - not all jurisdictions provide a callout fee - Tasmania provides $15 over set distance
  • Lifting (boarding/disembarking) fees are resisted by the community on ground of limited ability of low income people to pay - but the result is that drivers are doing unpaid work which creates a clear disincentive to providing the service
  • Industry needs specification of when allowed to turn meter on/off and limits of responsibility for collecting passenger and dropping off within premises - at present can have considerable time collecting passenger and boarding before allowed to start meter, means unpaid work and also not regarded as having met response time while doing it.
  • Measurement of response times also affected by taking bookings early to ensure reliability
  • Jurisdictions restrict access to knowledge of where bookings are going to, to prevent drivers avoiding short trips, but greater access to information would make industry overall operate more effectively with benefits to all
  • There is a desire from the taxi industry to have chairs certified somehow as fit for travelling on/in within taxi
  • There are problems in accommodating peak period demands particularly with competing requirements for taxis to provide school transport at the same time as getting people to and from work.

Not all of these issues necessarily fit within the framework of a review of the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport, apart from the need for debate on what should be done with the issues which do. In particular the Standards clearly cannot dictate what incentives State governments choose to provide, and probably cannot prevent them imposing more demanding requirements of their own - such as a requirement to provide two allocated spaces or to provide additional services without payment as part of license conditions which the Standards might not require.

Despite this the review of the Standards offers an important opportunity for a look nationally at what regulatory changes might better promote provision of accessible taxi services and we encourage industry and community organisations to bring forward ideas for this purpose .