Thursday, January 13, 2011

Taxi companies in New Zealand condemn driver who refused to pick up wheelchair-using hospital patient

From the New Zealand Herald:

An Auckland taxi driver who allegedly refused to pick up a wheelchair patient from a hospital rank has been condemned by an industry leader for "appalling behaviour."

Ian Taiaroa (pictured), a bus driver who is using a fold-up wheelchair temporarily between surgical operations at North Shore Hospital, said the cabbie refused to carry him in his Holden Commodore and suggested Mr Taiaroa phone North Shore Taxis to ask for a station wagon instead.

"But they're all trained to break the wheelchairs down to the size of a small pram and it would have fitted in the back seat or the boot of his car. The guy just didn't want to do it."

Fortunately a cab from a rival company turned up soon afterwards, just after 5pm on Tuesday, and Mr Taiaroa said its driver had no trouble folding up his chair and accepting his fare.

But as a bus driver whose policy is to "pick up everybody and anybody", Mr Taiaroa has complained to North Shore Taxis as a matter of principle.

He said a supervisor who took his complaint told him its driver should have picked him up, but apart from undertaking to reply to him in seven days, "sounded as if she wasn't interested".

The supervisor was off-duty when the Herald called the company yesterday afternoon, and a colleague said no managers were available for comment.

But Taxi Federation executive director Tim Reddish predicted a stern reaction from the company against the driver.

"He had no right to refuse him [Mr Taiaroa] whatsoever and it's just appalling behaviour," Mr Reddish said.

"I would say he'll be history. North Shore Taxis' management won't put up with that - he'll be in serious trouble."

"Fold-up wheelchairs can fit in the back seat or the boot - it's just bloody laziness."

Mr Taiaroa's complaint follows a variety of grievances raised by Herald readers before Christmas against taxi drivers wanting to avoid low-profit, short-distance fares. They were accused of refusing to carry pregnant women, rejecting a female who was fleeing assailants, and forcibly removing passengers from cabs.

That prompted a call from Mr Reddish for the Transport Agency and the police to crack down on the problem or else risk a tarnished image for New Zealand during the Rugby World Cup.

Transport Agency spokesman Ewart Barnsley said if Mr Taiaroa could not find satisfaction through his complaint "then he can come to us and we'll investigate".

"The ultimate end is a prosecution and a penalty could be a fine or the suspension of a licence."

Mr Barnsley said it was illegal for a taxi driver to refuse a fare unless the driver feared for his/her safety, or the prospective fare was drunk or disorderly.