14 Apr 2015

Anzac tour rejection upsets couple

8:10 am on 14 April 2015

A couple wanting to join an Anzac weekend rail tour say they feel discriminated against as they were turned away by a tour operator because one of them requires a walker.

Bryan Trim, 81, saw a newspaper ad for the New Zealand tour to mark the centenary of the Galipoli landings, and wanted to take part. His father had travelled to Europe to help with the post-World War I effort and his uncle died in the Somme.

no caption

The tour takes in National Park, a dawn service and a visit to the National Army Museum. Photo: SUPPLIED / KiwiRail website

But when Mr Trim called the operator, Pukekohe Travel, he said he was shocked to learn his wife Brenda wouldn't be able to join the tour.

"I asked how much walking would be involved. The person I spoke to said 'not a lot'. I said 'that's good because my wife does need to use a walker'," he said.

"I was then told or made aware that anybody that had to have a walker, they didn't accept people with that problem."

Mr Trim, from Matamata, said his 65-year-old wife has a bad back and arthritis, but could manage without a walker, if needed, and was able to climb a couple of big steps with his help.

"People shouldn't be told just because you can't walk very well, you can't go here and you can't go there, and you can't get up those steps, we're not going to change anything around," Mr Trim said. "It's discrimination, purely and simply."

Not the right tour

Pukekohe Travel tour manager Damian O'Connor said it was the agency's policy not to take people in wheelchairs and walkers on rail tours because it was physically challenging to board the train.

Mr O'Connor said some stations do not have platforms and a vertical ladder of three to four steps was used to get into the train carriage.

"We've run a number of these tours and people who have come on them that we weren't aware [have] mobility issues struggle," he said.

"It's too difficult to get on the train and they don't enjoy the trip. So with the feedback for our clients over the years, we've recognised that for wheelchairs or walkers, it's just practically not the right tour."

He could understand why Mr Trim was upset, and apologised that he had taken offence.

The now sold-out weekend tour begins on 24 April and included travel in the refurbished Silver Fern to National Park, two nights at the Chateau Tongariro Hotel, a dawn service and a visit to the National Army Museum.

Aging population

Jo Herbert, regional manager for the CCS Disability Action, Waikato and Bay of Plenty, said tour operators should be considering people with different needs in their planning.

"Accessible activities are going to become more and more important. We've got an aging population, and with that we'll get people who are less able, but certainly wanting to participate in community activities and tours."

Ms Herbert said areas that were less accessible should to be brought to the attention of those who run them.

A spokesperson for KiwiRail - which owns the Silver Fern train - said its ability to provide services to people with limited mobility varies depending on the train.

The Silver Fern carriages being used on the tour were not equipped with wheelchair access ramps or specific bathroom facilities.

The aisles were too narrow for a walker, he said, but if a person could safely embark and disembark from the train, and walk briefly without aid, they could manage.