19 Jan 2023

Public transport disruptions effects two-fold for disabled

From Morning Report, 7:51 am on 19 January 2023

Ongoing disruptions to public transport as people head back-to-work are causing headaches for many - especially for those with disabilities.

They are asking providers to not forget about their needs as services are chopped and changed. Bonnie Mosen has a furry pal to join her at work everyday - a guide dog called Eclipse.

Most days, the pair catch the bus from the Wellington suburb of Grenada Village. "I have no useable vision, so what I have to do is look on my app, Moovit, I also get notifications from the Metlink app," Mosen said.

Bonnie Mosen waits for the bus from Grenada Village with her guide dog Eclipse.

Bonnie Mosen waits for the bus from Grenada Village with her guide dog Eclipse. Photo: RNZ/Samuel Wat

She relies on the voiceover function on her iPhone to read out notifications from the Metlink and Moovit apps.

It takes a lot of scrolling through to get to the alert she is after, and often by that point, the bus has already turned up.

To track their journey along the route, Bonnie counts the minutes that have lapsed, and listens to the pace of the driving to guess if they are on the highway or in the city.  Then, she checks her phone when she thinks they are close to her stop.   

Despite the added challenges for disabled people, Bonnie still uses public transport, unlike Grant Sharman, who has been a wheelchair user for 45 years. He has travelled around the world and in many cities, like Brisbane, he said he was happy to board a train.

But he does not use the service in Auckland, where he said the network size and scale are incomparable. Those problems could get worse, with rolling rail closures planned across the city until 2025.

AUCKLAND  - MAY 26:MAXX train at platform in Britomart Transport Centre on May 26 2013.It designed to serve up to 10,500 passengers during the peak hour in its current configuration as a terminus

Photo: 123RF

Cue the dreaded "buses replace trains" signs.

Martine Abel-Williamson, who is sight-impaired, commutes from East Auckland and said when that happens, there is never enough information provided for people who have a disability.
"We do not know which of those buses are accessible. People do not find that out until the bus arrives. Also we have a huge shortage of bus drivers," she said.

The government last year announced $61 million would be spent on lifting driver wages nationwide, but the shortage in many cities remains.

That is evident in the capital, where some weekday bus services are still running to a Saturday timetable until 27 January.

Largely empty buses on Wellington's Lambton Quay on the first day of level 3, 28 April

Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

Colleen Brown, chair of Disability Connect, said any changes can be disorienting.

"If you have a person, say, who is autistic, you familiarise that person to be using that particular railway station.

"You have to do a lot of work, and when that system is broken, then you have to redo all of those touch points."

Brown wants replacement services to be accessible to all, including clear and prompt communication in different forms to cater for different disabilities.

In statements provided to RNZ, Auckland Transport and Wellington's Metlink both said they use a variety of channels to get messages out, including instant notifications on the app.

AT said it's also using large print and sign language with the rail network rebuild, with support staff at affected stations for the first three days of the changes.