19 Dec 2021

Concerns raised about having to share public transport with unvaccinated people

5:57 am on 19 December 2021

People with no choice but to use public transport say they are fearful of getting onboard and are being held hostage by those who have chosen not to be vaccinated.

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File image. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Under the government's Covid-19 protection framework, also known as the traffic light system, public transport including buses, trains and taxis are prohibited from asking customers for a vaccine pass, as they are considered "essential or life-preserving services".

Kaye* has epilepsy and legally cannot drive. She relies on public transport but a fever can bring on a seizure.

She is anxious about sharing a confined space with someone who has chosen not to be vaccinated.

"I'm not going to lie. I've been terrified because the reality is, it's got to show up here at some point and I think as soon as we start hearing about cases in Wellington I will not be going on any local buses anymore and taxis would end up being for an absolute emergency," Kaye said.

She was angry she had been put in this position.

"We've done the right thing, we've got our shots and we need the transport to get to where we're going, or we're stuck but we can't risk it.

"A lot of us have got disabilities and we're at high risk ... like, in the case of epilepsy getting a fever can trigger seizures quite badly, so we don't want to be getting sick."

Minister for the Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins said the government had been careful to balance the need to keep people safe from the virus, while ensuring everyone could access necessities like food, medicine and transport.

Kaye said in the government's effort to be inclusive, it had excluded a large number of people.

"There are thousands and thousands of New Zealanders who cannot drive on medical grounds ... I wish the people who made the rules would think about this. Everything is set up on the basis and the assumption that everybody drives, and the people who make the rules just don't even think about that. They don't think about the consequences of their decisions.

"I know, I'm not the only one who feels like this and I'm not the only one who is minimising their usage of public transport."

Bus and Coach Association chief executive Ben McFadgen said risks of transmission could be managed better in a bus than in a taxi, but noted all public transport operators had done a risk assessment and decided drivers must be vaccinated.

"With tour buses it is up to the operator whether they choose to take unvaccinated passengers. Some are doing separate vaccinated only and mixed. Again, with public transport they have conducted risk assessments for their drivers and are mandating vaccinations," McFadgen said.

"We did recommend to NZTA and MOT [Ministry of Transport] that it would be sensible for the government to mandate public transport due to its essential nature. A number of operators run both school and public transport services, so it would have made sense for consistency and good risk management, but Cabinet did not see it that way."

The New Zealand Taxi Federation wrote to the minister for Covid-19 response, the minister of health and the minister of transport earlier this month, explaining its members did not feel safe under the current settings.

* Name changed to protect privacy

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