“We have always been stuck”: people with disabilities demand better transport options
If you could only leave home to go to three places a week, where would you go?
Would you like to prioritize groceries over a doctor’s appointment? Would you go do your mahi or visit whānau?
These are questions Susan Williams asks non-disabled people about why, as a functionally blind and chronically ill person, they urgently need better transportation options.
The 29-year-old often has to make those difficult choices himself due to lack of transportation. Because the light makes them sick, taking public transport is sometimes not possible. Taking a cab, which is often the only other way Williams can get around as they are unable to drive, can be prohibitively expensive. However, Williams thinks they’re lucky because a lot of others get worse.
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On Monday morning, in the west hall of the Beehive, Williams spoke during a hui for the Free rates to freedom campaign, which calls for the government’s total mobility program to be changed to improve transport access for people with disabilities.
Ari Kerssens and Karley Parker launched the initiative after the government temporarily increased the subsidy on taxi fares for people with reduced mobility from 50% to 100% between April and June last year.
Kerssens, a 27 year old man from Auckland who is blind, said “one light bulb turned on and we felt this freedom that we never had before”.
But, on July 1, when the subsidy was again reduced to 50 percent, “that freedom was taken away.”
Kerssens and Parker then launched a petition to definitively bring back the free rates. However, the focus has since changed to simply ensure that people with disabilities have the same transportation choices as the rest of the population without it hitting their pockets.
Kerssens said that since launching the campaign, they have heard from people with disabilities who believe the only way they can afford to get from A to B independently is to engage in sex work.
Parker, who has low vision and lives in Dunedin, said the restriction of movement during the lockdown has given people without disabilities a taste of the life of people with disabilities that affects their mobility.
“We realized we were still locked out. It was like welcome to our world. “
She said the campaign was about well-being, empowerment, choice and control.
People with disabilities were often told “just take a bus,” but it wasn’t always easy, often involving a lot of planning that could cause stress and anxiety, Parker added.
Williams described one of their only experiences on this, when they recently traveled to and from their home and Karori for a medical appointment at Crofton Downs.
The round trip takes about 50 minutes by car, but for Williams it lasted four and a half hours and involved two cab rides, two bus rides, two train rides, one crossing a main road, and one hour on foot. The return trip cost Williams $ 18.50.
“I was completely written off for the next two days.”
Kerssens and Parker will return to Parliament to present their petition to Green MP Jan Logie on Tuesday.
During the hui, Logie said it was hard not to feel a “bubbling sense of outrage” at decisions made by those in power after hearing from Parker, Kerssens, Williams and others with disabilities.
The transport agency Waka Kotahi NZ studies the experiences of transporting people with disabilities.
Helen White, head of mobility and security at the Department of Transportation, said the department will review the total mobility program, including how it works in different regions, once the Waka Kotahi research is completed in early 2022.
“The parameters remain to be determined. Waka Kotahi’s research findings and recommendations will help inform the scope of the review.