Taxi companies want urgent government action to subsidise mobility vans, fearing without more drivers elderly and disabled people will have even more difficulty getting around
The taxi industry is warning it can’t persuade new drivers to buy into mobility vans, and says without better financial incentives there will be no one to replace the ageing workforce.
Paul Cardoso of Blue Star Taxis in Invercargill said his company had three vans in operation, but it would soon only be one.
“We used to have four, but now we’ve only got three. One driver is an 80-year-old man and he still hangs in, he’s still one of the best drivers we have but he will be finishing in the near future and I don’t see any buyers to buy into his van.
“And then we got the other two vans, and one has only got two or three years to go before he retires.”
Cardoso said there was enough demand for a dozen vans to be operating but it was near-impossible to recruit and attract new drivers to the industry generally, and even more difficult to get ones to buy into the vehicles that could transport people in wheelchairs.
“To buy-in you’re looking at about $150,000 for the van and the fittings. The council gives you a subsidy for the fittings of about $33,000 but you’ve got to pay more out of your pocket.”
“So say you pay it off, over a period of five years it will probably cost you $120,000 with interest.”
He said despite the demand the work simply did not bring in much money.
“They are all different but one guy that could tell you that he’s probably pulling $60,000 a year and another will probably tell you he’s only pulling $40,000.
“It’s not really stacking up these days … it’s never been a particularly profitable part of the business.” – Warren Quirke
“And it is a job that you work a lot of hours, and by the time you add the hours you don’t really making that much for the work you’re doing.”
Small Passenger Association chair Warren Quirke said it was a national problem.
“I receive a number of complaints from customers and it’s pretty much across the country and effectively it goes broken. to this issue of supply.
“I mean, there’s always going to be times of the day where hass are busier than others, but a lot of these vehicles are often tied up with contracts of getting special needs children to school and that’s at the same time other passengers want to travel.”
But he said the business model was broken.
“It’s not really stacking up these days … it’s never been a particularly profitable part of the business but the changes and the amendments to the Land Transport Act in 2017 saw a lot more competitors coming into the market and so the [overall taxi] work has diluted and [companies] have been left with basically just the less-profitable-type work.”
Quirke and Cardoso see the only solution being more direct funding from government to make the vans financially appealing.
Cardoso said this included increasing the one-off fee drivers could collect from government when doing jobs that required their [wheelchair] hoist to be used.
“We heard that the hoist was going to go up to $17.25 [each job] and it was meant to be last June … and they just kept saying ‘oh we’re working on it’, but they’re taking so long to work on it.”
Disabled Persons Assembly chief executive Prudence Walker said people had to plan outings around the availability of taxis, rather than when they actually wanted to go out.
“The problem will probably get worse over the next 12 months.” – Warren Quirke
“It’s a general sense of, when arranging to go places, ‘I’ll have to see if I can get a mobility taxi’, or ‘a mobility taxi won’t be available because they’ll be on the school run’, or ‘I’ll have to leave my meeting or social event early because I need to get home before the school run’, or ‘the drivers knock off at this time at night’.
“So it’s not, ‘I want to do this, I want to go at this time’ … It’s trying to figure out how they can get the transport that they need and often needing to set plans around what they know about availability of that in their area.”
She said not having access to transport stopped disabled people participating in society.
A spokesperson for Transport Minister Michael Wood said the Total Mobility scheme – designed to ensure disabled people can get where they need to go in a safe and dignified manner – was being reviewed.
The scheme funds the one-off hoist fee, the subsidy for fitting the vans, and a discount for users.
“Te Manatū Waka Ministry of Transport are working alongside Disabled People’s Organisations, and the wider disability community, and councils to review Total Mobility to make sure it is delivering the solutions that disabled people need and want.”
Taxi companies said they were told to expect outcomes in about a year.
“The problem will probably get worse over the next 12 months,” Quirke said.
“And of course, it’s an ageing population, so more people [will be] requiring that has as well. It’s been an issue for some time bubbling away, but it needs to be taken seriously.”