Free fares to freedom

Free fares to freedom

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An open letter to NZTA to reinstate fully-funded transport for people with limited mobility.

Imagine if you were unable to drive?

How would you go and see your friends, pick up groceries, or visit the doctor?

For those of us who have never been able to drive due to disability, this is our constant reality. We’re faced with the inability to feel the sense of freedom and independence so many others take for granted.

The COVID-19 Level 4 lockdown gave all New Zealanders a glimpse into what life is like for tens of thousands of us with mobility and access needs – each and every day. And that’s why we’re asking Waka Kotahi (the New Zealand Transport Agency) to support us with free fares,

What’s the story?

On April 14th 2020, Waka Kotahi (the New Zealand Transport Agency) waived all fees for public transport. This included taxi travel for those with limited mobility, under the Total Mobility scheme. At the end of June 2020, Total Mobility transport returned to pre-lockdown pricing.

But for tens of thousands of us with limited mobility, it was a revelation – and free transport had a profound impact on our lives.

It allowed us more autonomy. Saved us from having to ask family and friends for a ‘lift’. Gave us the ability to receive reliable, trustworthy transport on our own terms. Ultimately, it helped us live our lives a little more fully.

For many of us, traversing streets full of unpredictable pedestrians, dangerous vehicles, and ever-changing road works can become an incredibly stressful mission. Public transport can be equally unpredictable, and difficult for us to navigate, particularly when going somewhere unfamiliar. For most of us, getting from A to B independently is near impossible, and for rural New Zealanders it's even worse.

The energy expenditure that independent navigation requires often outweighs the perceived benefit of the outing for us. So, we stay home. We stay isolated. We stay unseen; out of sight and out of mind, while the rest of New Zealand comes out of lockdown into the new normal. We want - and need - to be a part of this new New Zealand.

Mobility access needs transcend age, race, gender, wealth, and location. It affects every whanau. We are the elderly, the visually impaired, the paraplegic. We are friends, whanau, neighbours. We are real people, who deserve access to the same mobility as everyone else.

What can NZTA do about it?

As a collective, we have come together to respectfully ask the NZTA to review their position and reinstate full cover rates for total mobility transport fares. We believe the positive impact this has had on our wider community is profound, and a real opportunity for the government to be seen supporting and giving back to those in need.

For those of us who depend on disability allowances, access to free transport was genuinely empowering. We’re not given any additional funding toward transportation. It’s a cost we have to cover over and above our usual life expenses. And that additional financial burden is another factor disabling us from contributing to our communities and economy… on top of our physical disability.

Reinstating free mobility transport will simply change lives.

Who will it help? 

We would like to finish with a few personal anecdotes about how free transport has granted access to education, alleviated social isolation, allowed many of us to explore, and given us opportunities to contribute to New Zealand in ways we couldn’t easily do before. If you are reading this letter as somebody with limited mobility whose life was changed by free taxi transport, we invite you to add your own experiences, and those of people close to you.

“Taxi drivers offer additional services if needed like taking you to the door of where you are going which makes a big difference in terms of giving people the ability to go out on their own and the safety and confidence to do so.” - Thomas (Auckland)

“Living in the city makes it the biggest hassle, being low vision I struggle with traffic lights and the inconsistency of bus timetables, making taxi a much more safe and secure option” - Milton (Auckland)

“Relying on public transport makes it really hard if you ever need to take something with you bigger than a backpack. For one, having to carry extra stuff makes it harder to navigate especially if you need a cane. Secondly, there are just so many things you can’t take with you which is really limiting and it’s something that other people don’t have to worry about as they can drive themselves” - Alix (Auckland)

“Having access to transport meant that I could visit friends and family and they felt more at ease knowing I was safer in a taxi than using public transport. For the first time, I felt a strong sense of freedom and contentment with having the ability to live my life “ - Karley (Dunedin)

“I struggle with light sensitivity during the day and night blindness at night, so traversing anywhere I don’t know well, whether by foot or public transport, is hugely draining. I stopped going to uni lectures as my sight worsened, and by the end of my degree I only attended mandatory classes because getting to university was such a struggle. I made very few friends and felt pretty isolated for my entire degree. Definitely not the normal student experience. I think things would have been very different if I’d been able to get there without the stress.” - Ari (Auckland)


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