Some disabled staff of Byron Bay Herb Nursery are paying a high percentage of their wages on taxi fares. Photo Jeff ‘Happy Herbal High’ Dawson
Workers with disabilities can spend more than they earn just getting to work thanks to the reprehensible state of transport subsidies and an acute lack of transport services on the northern rivers.
Nick Thom employs 15 people with disability at the Byron Bay Herb Nursery and he says, despite overcoming the obvious obstacles to become productive members of the community, his staff are subjected to the added stress of transport problems that are jeopardising the very business that supports them.
‘Some of them can spend up to $80 per day on taxis to and from home and the subsidy voucher only covers them for up to $30 of the fare cost ,’ Mr Thom said.
‘With no train and limited public transport options, sometimes they have to choose between going to work or going to a medical appointment.’
Byron Bay Herb Nursery is a non-profit charity that since 1992 has provided employment and training opportunities for people with a disability who require on-going support to work. They produce high quality herbs for the horticulture market using best-practice environmental methods.
Mr Thom said he has had to reduce his staff’s hours so they can share taxis, get picked up by staff, or even catch the school bus.
‘We are a charity and these transport issues are jeopardising our service by draining our budget and putting our staff under stress. I would love to offer our workers more hours and become more profitable but the reality is they can’t afford to get to work,’ he said.
A new study reveals that the NSW Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme (TTSS) no longer adequately covers the real cost of transport for people living with a disability, compounding the disadvantage for those who live in regional and rural areas.
The report, TTSS: The Shrinking Circle, written by Kate Geary from the Northern Rivers Social Development Council (NRSDC) in collaboration with NSW Council of Social Service, Spinal Cord Injuries Australia, and Physical Disability Council of NSW, shows that one third of people with disability using the scheme rely on taxis as their only option for getting around.
With fare costs constantly escalating, getting around has become less and less affordable, and now many people living with a disability are facing added social and financial disadvantage.
‘For many people with a disability, the radius they can travel from home comfortably or affordably shrinks every year,’ Ms Geary said.
‘It was heartbreaking reading about people’s experiences as many survey respondents described their worlds as shrinking and being increasingly unable to participate in community life.’
People eligible for the subsidy must have a severe and permanent disability including vision impairment, mobility impairment, reliance on a wheelchair, or have mental illness or intellectual disability.
‘Since the scheme was last reviewed, taxi fares have risen by 60 per cent on average across NSW,’ Ms Geary said.
‘In regional and rural areas, taxi costs may be even higher because of the greater distances involved in travel and higher per-kilometre fare rates.
‘Because of the increasing cost of taxis and the fact that many people with disability are on low incomes, people are increasingly finding they can only use taxis for essential travel such as shopping or medical appointments – it’s a significant equity issue.’
The survey found 50 per cent of respondents in rural and regional areas were reliant on friends and family to take them places, compared to 38 per cent of people in metropolitan areas where there are more transport options available.
‘Taxis are not a luxury for many people who use a wheelchair and can’t access public transport or ride in unmodified vehicles,’ Ms Geary said.
‘Spending their funds on essential travel means there is little or none left over for going out with friends or family – the social things that most people take for granted and that give their life meaning.’
Ms Geary said the subsidy is currently capped at 50 per cent of the fare cost with a maximum subsidy of $30 per trip and she would like to see it revised to 75 per cent of the fare total with a cap of $60 and would like the government make provision for a TTSS increase in its coming budget.
The subsidy will be reviewed by the state government this year and people are encouraged to write to the NSW Minister for Transport, Gladys Berejiklian and tell her about their experiences and what changes they would like to see made to the TTSS.