Albany, USA — Two of Albany’s wheelchair-accessible taxis have decided to close down after Christmas, saying that the government made their situation ‘unworkable’.
This decision, however, undeniably placed the city’s wheelchair users under stress and concern.
Ellie and David Barras, the city’s sole drivers of WAVs, have helped the disabled and elderly communities maintain their independence for 12 years.
“We have stayed in it longer than we should have to our financial detriment because of our love for our clients,” Ellie said. “We don’t want to let them down but we have got to the point where our mental health suffers.
Ellie added that if they continue providing their service, they would lose their home as they are so far in debt. But she does recognize how the situation is unfair for their clients as well.
“Without the wheelchair taxi, they are stuck in their home. They can’t get to doctors, physios, to see their families,” she said. “It is devastating.”
According to the drivers, the on-demand transport reforms is the culprit behind their crisis. They say the loss of value in their plates, excessive paperwork, and the threat of fines have all taken a toll.
Albany resident Colin May has multiple sclerosis and is one of the Barras’ regular customers. In fact, he uses the wheelchair taxis for the past eight years, up to a dozen times a week.
The taxi service allows him to go to physiotherapy and GP appointments, the gym, council meetings, Sailability events and to catch up with friends. Hence, without the taxis, all of that will be gone from his life. “There are a lot of people that use them that will miss them,” he said.
“We love the job, we love the people, but the red tape and being watched all the time is pretty heavy,” David Barras said.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Rita Saffioti claims that she had asked the Department of Transport to keep working with the Albany drivers to ensure disabled people had access to on-demand transport.
Stuart Hickson, the driver of Albany’s other WAV, claims that he’s also in the same position as the Barras.
“I enjoy the job but so many things have happened in the last six months that have made it unworkable. I can’t see a way out.”