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Infrastructure and Transport – Disability Transport Options

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 6 June 2023

Tags: Infrastructure, Transport, Disability, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - I want to ask some questions for Tasmanians with disability and how they can be really excluded from transport options. I have, as an example, a constituent with a physical disability, wheelchair dependent, who recently was at an event in the northern suburbs of Hobart. It was after 10 o'clock at night, wanted to get home and rang for a maxi taxi. No maxi taxis and my constituent in his wheelchair took himself from Berriedale to New Town. Is there any work at all being done with taxi operators to make sure that there is always a maxi taxi available so that people with a physical disability don't have to be home at dark?

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, I thank you for the question because what you've asked me is exactly what we're doing. As minister, I'm not satisfied with the level of service that members of our community are currently receiving. In my own area in the north of the state and I'm aware of issues in the south of the state as well.

Mr Crane will be able to speak further to this in a moment but in particular, wheelchair accessible taxis, better known as maxi taxis, but that's a proprietary name, I could call them WATs, are an important lifeline for Tasmanians with mobility issues. The wheelchair accessible taxi segment is potentially more exposed to fluctuations in driver ability because it's a smaller subset of the overall industry, which as we all know, is a private sector industry that has significant regulation by Government.

I've been very clear, including reaching into last year, that reports that people are finding that they couldn't get a maxi taxi booking and secondly, where a booking wasn't being honoured were major concerns for me. I said that if the industry didn't respond, I would act. To fix this, because I haven't seen enough action, and ensure more WATs are available when needed by wheelchair reliant passengers, I'm currently proposing a new set of rules to mandate a minimum of 30 wheelchair passenger trips be provided by each wheelchair accessible taxi per month, currently the minimum is one.

For context for the Committee to be aware of, unlike mainstream taxi licences, wheelchair accessible taxi licences are effectively free, very close to free. It could be argued that - I don't make this case today - there's an incentive built in there to get one of those licences and just use it for the carriage of large numbers of people, groups of party guests, for example, airport runs. That's legitimate to a degree but the public policy intention of a WAT licence is for people with mobility issues. That's currently in consultation, the 30 minimum trips per month.

Ms O'CONNOR - Maybe we could have some time frames too.

Mr CRANE - It was part of the recent regulatory impact statement that was out for consultation with industry. We'll be looking to amend the regulations by mid June. Hopefully by July -

Ms O'CONNOR - Middle of this month?

Mr CRANE - Yes.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's great.

Mr CRANE - So that particular regulation package will be working its way to the minister's office very shortly.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's really good, minister.

Mr FERGUSON - Yes, there's a bit more, because that on its own isn't enough. Recognising that there'll be some business adjustment here I've, discovered that different incentives are paid to drivers by the operators, depending on the region. Recognising that there's greater unloading and loading time for passengers in wheelchairs, we will also increase the current subsidy for every wheelchair trip in a WAT to $20, to be split equally between the driver and the operator to help cover this time.

There's been a disparity in that currently the subsidy is $10 to $16 depending on the area. I'm normalising that at $20. I feel that everybody's better off with that approach. It does provide a recognition of the extra time that's needed. That together with the minimum number of trips will be reported to the Commissioner and will be policed.

Ms O'CONNOR - Great.

Mr FERGUSON - I know time's short but to keep WATs on the road longer, I'm also proposing to remove the mandatory age requirement of the fleet, which will make it consistent with the rest of the country. I would prefer that we had new vehicles in all cases. We won't relax the safety rules but we will relax the age rule -

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you.

Mr FERGUSON - - to keep more of them on the road and try to provide as much carrot and stick as we can so that we can get better outcomes for our community. Just quickly, the proposed changes were open for public comment. I'm told that closed on 16 May. I look forward to that advice and I look forward to progressing it so that we can all do a better job for our community.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, minister. I've got another question on people with disabilities. There has been a statement put out on the use of personal mobility devices on footpaths. It has been signed onto by Disability Voices Tasmania, Speak Out Advocacy, ParaQuad, Blind Citizens Australia, TasCOSS, the Association for Children with Disability, Brain Injury Association of Tasmania and the Council on the Ageing Tasmania. A number of concerns have been raised about e-scooters. In the statement there are proposals for a maximum speed limit of 10 kilometres per hour on public footpaths, restraint on using these vehicles on shopping strips, prohibiting their use on public footpaths where bicycle lanes are provided et cetera, and also a request that the state Government designate for hire personal mobility devices as public transport. Are you able to confirm that you're aware of this statement and that you are cognisant of the need to have an effective response to look out for people with a disability who are in pedestrian areas?

Mr FERGUSON - In brief, because I realise time is short, the regulations that we progressed have been in force for a year. The review of the regulatory framework is currently underway, as I promised would occur. Disability voices are important to me in this space. I have personally with a number of individuals representing that constituency. The Department of State Growth conducted roundtables in Launceston and Hobart last year to hear from key community stakeholders, including disability groups, about their views of the rules and to inform that review that is now underway. Stakeholders in attendance included reps from Disability Voices Tasmania, Blind Citizens Australia, the Council on the Ageing, Guide Dogs Tasmania and VisAbility Tasmania. The Government developed the Ride with Respect education campaign and continued efforts around similar campaigns remain an option for the future.

I will now pass to Martin. You will need to be brief and would you please also discuss and inform the committee about our new disability representative group for transport that you are chairing for us?

Ms O'CONNOR - But also, with respect, if any changes in response to the statement from the stakeholders will be implemented to the current regulatory framework.

Mr CRANE - On that matter, as the minister mentioned, he undertook to do a review of the regulations after 12 months. We are about to finalise that review and provide that to him. That will consider those aspects of the regulations that we put in place 12 months ago, including speed et cetera. That will be partly in response to those -

Ms O'CONNOR - Time line?

Mr CRANE -That report should be with the Deputy Premier within 2-3 weeks. We're finalising that following the consultation with those groups.

Ms O'CONNOR - Just in the last moments we have -

Mr FERGUSON - And I have further information.