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Govt won't pay for cab farce

Date

Michael Inman

A PEAK body representing women and girls with disabilities has billed the ACT government for more than $1200 and demanded an apology after a member last week missed an important meeting due to Canberra's wheelchair taxi service.

Women With Disabilities Australia said the critical trip was funded with money raised by its members.

But the ACT government says while it regrets the incident, it is not liable for any losses arising from taxi services.

The Sunday Canberra Times last week published the story of Associate Professor Helen Meekosha, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who relies on a wheelchair for her mobility, who was left stranded twice in the space of 36 hours by the ACT's wheelchair accessible taxi service.

Upon arrival at Canberra Airport, Professor Meekosha was left waiting in sub-zero temperatures for more than an hour, eventually dismantling her wheelchair and loading it into a regular taxi.

Professor Meekosha then missed her return flight to Sydney on Wednesday morning after her booked wheelchair taxi arrived 45 minutes late.

The Sydney academic was in Canberra to attend a non-government organisation forum on Domestic Human Rights with Attorney-General Nicola Roxon at Parliament House.

But the arduous journey and the fatiguing nature of her illness meant Professor Meekosha missed the meeting.

WWDA was so incensed they have requested the ACT government cover the bill.

In a letter to Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, obtained by the Sunday Canberra Times, WWDA executive director Carolyn Frohmader said the trip was funded with scarce cash reserves donated by the group's members.

Ms Frohmader said the bill covers return airfares and accommodation for Professor Meekosha and her carers.

''In addition to the appalling treatment of Associate Professor Meekosha, our organisation is now out of pocket to the tune of $1225.88, excluding cab charges,'' Ms Frohmader said. ''This was a critical meeting for our organisation. Given that Professor Meekosha was unable to attend the event for which she had gone to Canberra due to the discrimination she experienced at the hands of Canberra taxi service, WWDA requests that the ACT government reimburse WWDA for our expenses.''

The government apologised via the Sunday Canberra Times but Ms Frohmader said the act of contrition was not sufficient. ''We therefore request that the ACT government formally apologise to Associate Professor Meekosha in writing as a matter of urgency.''

But the ACT government has declined to foot the bill because it regulates, not operates the capital's taxi industry.

''It is not government practice to reimburse passengers for out-of-pocket expenses associated for taxi services not being available when expected,'' a Justice and Community Safety spokeswoman said. ''Taxi services are provided by private operators.

''The government regrets that a wheelchair accessible taxi was not available to Professor Meekosha when she arrived in Canberra and agrees that there is a need to improve the availability of wheelchair taxis, particularly at off-peak times.''

The spokeswoman said the government had balloted surrendered wheelchair accessible taxi licences and was close to finalising the establishment of a centralised wheelchair taxi booking service.

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