Will Uber Play Our Tuba

When you are about to finish in a job, you can’t help thinking of the things you would have done if you were staying.

I’ve been doing that, and wondering about what will happen to these issues. My job as Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner is down-graded after 4 July. Instead of a very full-time role where I have lived experience of disability, and a knowledge of the disability sector, the role will be filled part-time by an existing Commissioner with knowledge of their own sector.

One of these issues is the changing face of our public transport system, particularly taxi transport.

If you have any involvement with the disability sector, you would have to be aware of the problems people with disabilities face using taxis-

* There are not enough accessible taxis on the road, thus making waiting times significantly longer;

* Those accessible taxis on the road are often diverted to other jobs;

* Taxi drivers sometimes refuse to carry passengers who travel with assistance animals.

The list goes on.

But there is an emerging issue, and its impact on people with disabilities could make these problems seem like the first few chords compared with the whole symphony experience.

Increasingly, we are ordering taxis using apps on our smartphones. An improvement you might say, making the process more efficient. But will the efficiency exclude passengers with disabilities? Will they be playing our song?

It’s all very well if the apps supplement the current system-
Silver Service in Sydney is an example, where Taxis Combined enhances its service with an app. It’s all very well if another provider- Ingogo or Gocatch for instance – use existing taxis, but more efficiently or cheaply funnel the business through their app. You get a taxi faster, you don’t have to wait to talk to a human, and you can watch the little dot on your screen as it approaches.

But what about companies such as Uber. Overseas, and beginning in Australia, Uber are offering a range of services, the cheapest of which involves curating a group of private car owners who will provide a “taxi” service for a fee, and putting them in touch with customers. Great, you might say, my taxi service just became cheaper and more available. But for people with disabilities, will it be violins rather than the whole orchestra?

Let’s ask some questions.

* Are passengers insured when travelling on a hire basis in a private vehicle?

* Will these services pick up people who use wheelchairs or mobility equipment?

*Will these services carry people who use assistance animals?

Overseas experience suggests that the answers to all of these questions is no.

But if such services take off, we may see a real decline in authorised taxi services, which will be driven out of business by competition at cheaper rates.

Is anyone yelling budget airlines, and what they have done to passengers with disabilities? Because I am.

The only solution I can come up with, and its not the “silver bullet”, is that – as the providers of services – both the app operator and the private car owner should be liable to the lodging of complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act. I’m not aware of any complaints having been lodged yet, but if you have had this problem you’d better start preparing them. Because if you don’t, these services will be upon us, and it will be a hard tide to turn back.

Even harder without a full-time Commissioner with lived experience of disability. Once again, we’ll be locked out of the orchestral performance.

Graeme Innes will, until 4 July, be Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

One thought on “Will Uber Play Our Tuba

  1. Hi Graeme,

    It is absolutely disgraceful of the Government to axe your role but are us disabled people willing to crowd fund your position? What if you put up a Kickstarter funding attempt? If every disabled person only put forward a dollar or two we could easily fund your position. Disgraceful that we should have to do this but far better than losing the position altogether.

    Are you even interested in staying on under such funding or have you made other arrangements?

    There must be some way of keeping your role with a disabled person.


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