Queenslanders with disabilities left in limbo as wheelchair-accessible taxis fail to turn up to bookings

26 April 2022

Mark McGrath has had to cancel countless appointments, social gatherings and almost missed his father’s funeral due to taxi delays.

The Gold Coast resident relies on wheelchair-accessible taxis every week but said he would do anything to avoid it.

“You never know whether they turn up in 20 minutes or an hour and a half,” Mr McGrath said.

“I will even take my power [wheelchair] and drive for two and a quarter hours, just to avoid that same cab trip.”

Even when he pre-booked a taxi to attend his father’s funeral, Mr McGrath almost missed it.

“I rang the day before, and I booked the cab to pick me up at 1pm and the ceremony was at 2pm, and it was only about 15 minutes away.

“I thought, ‘oh perfect time, I’ll be very early. It will be great’,” he said.

After several phone calls and an anxious wait, the company eventually added Mr McGrath to their priority list, getting him to the funeral with just two minutes to spare before the service began.

“I wasn’t going to miss it,” he said.

But the experience left Mr McGrath feeling stressed and upset on an already challenging day.

Just 20 per cent of the Queensland taxi fleet has dedicated wheelchair access, making delays common.

“Someone will say, ‘why you are you late?’, and I’ll say ‘taxis.’ They understand,” Mr McGrath said.

Taxi Council of Queensland CEO Blair Davies said the problem was the limited number of drivers not vehicles.

“We’ve got wheelchair-accessible vehicles available to go on the road, but we don’t have enough drivers for them,” he said.

But Mr Davies said finding drivers had been challenging with the pandemic, fuel hikes and unchanged taxi fares.

“Wheelchair-accessible vehicles are a larger vehicle, and with fuel prices as high as they are, that also makes it more difficult to run those businesses,” he said.

It costs twice as much fuel for a driver to run a wheelchair-accessible van compared to the other taxis, Mr Davies said.

Taxi fares have also remained unchanged since 2014 — something Mr Davis said was “working against” the industry.

“We think that might well be discouraging taxi drivers getting out there and working those wheelchair-accessible taxis,’ he said.

The Taxi Council has called on the government to do more to help drivers provide for people with disabilities.

In 2019, the Queensland government announced a four-year $21 million Wheelchair Accessible Taxi (WAT) scheme to help upgrade the fleet.

The grant is due to end next year, but just $9 million has been spent since the scheme launched.

The Department of Transport and Main Roads said it was processing another $2.34 million worth of applications.

The grant aims to replace written-off and ageing vehicles with wheelchair-accessible taxis, a Department of Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said.

Mr Davies said while the grant was helpful, it had been challenging to access.

For Mr McGrath, the changes have resulted in no improvements in his experience of trying to catch a taxi.

“The exact problems I’m having today are exactly the same as the problems I had 30 years ago,” he said.

“There have been no improvements and the core problems are still the same.”

While rideshare services are a popular option for many, companies such as Uber, Didi and Ola offer limited to no options for people with disabilities.

Uber can only offer services to people with physical disabilities who have collapsible and foldable wheelchairs, walkers and scooters.

DiDi spokesperson Dan Jordan said they did not offer “specific” services to people with large wheelchairs.

“And we, as yet, have not conducted a trial within Queensland,” Mr Jordan said.

Queensland’s Taxi Council said there was an “oversupply of services” of taxis and rideshare vehicles, but the same cannot be said for accessible vehicles.

“People that need a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, there is no choice in the rideshare or the limousine market for them,” Mr Davies said.

“And as we’re all struggling for drivers coming out of the pandemic, they will see less services available to them.”