Australia has a long history of providing taxis for those with disabilities. Way back in the 1980’s Australia saw the need and quickly introduced wheelchair access taxis. The early ones were cumbersome converted Ford sedans and were horrible to ride in, and equally horrible to drive.

The early ’90s saw the introduction of the English “Metro Cab” in some Aussie cities but the cab was made for UK conditions and didn’t really fit the bill here in OZ. We moved on to Volkswagen Transporters and Toyota Hiace vehicles, the latter being the mainstay of the Australian taxi fleet for disabled access. The cabs are fitted with rear lifts and restraining equipment, and they can carry two wheelchairs at a time and additional passengers. Most Aussie cabs have a flat rate fare, with no extra charge for luggage or additional passengers. Some companies charge extra when 5 or more people are travelling together. Some airports charge a fee for taxi services which is paid to the driver.

In Australia, there is no separate specialist wheelchair accessible taxi service. All major cab companies in the capital cities and major country towns have access to cabs integral to their fleets. To book you simply call the cab company of choice and request a cab…just like everyone else. Access cabs have no additional charges, you pay the regular cab fare. In Western Australia, access cabs are called MPTs (multi-purpose taxis) and in the remainder of the nation they are referred to as WATs (wheelchair access taxis)

Australians with disabilities are fortunate to be subsidised by the relevant state government when it comes to cabs. For instance, in Western Australia a wheelchair or scooter-bound passenger only pays 25% of the fare. Passengers with mild disabilities who may be able to access regular cabs receive a 50% discount on the fare. This scheme is available to Australian citizens and residents only. There is a limit on the subsidy.

The access cab service in major East Coast cities can be patchy at times as many drivers find the loading and unloading of wheelchair passengers a chore. So much for empathy!

In Adelaide, South Australia and Perth, Western Australia, the access cabs are far more dedicated and motivated to assist those with disabilities. Training and standards in these two states are higher than in the rest of the nation. Most of the drivers WANT to be involved with assisting those with disabilities and in Perth drivers are screened and trained on the job before being allowed to operate a wheelchair taxi. All cabs in major cities have security, GPS tracking as well as cameras inside and outside the vehicle for passenger and driver safety. This is similar to an airliner’s “black box” and can’t be tampered with except by the authorities.

Australia is unique in having a national taxi number. Whilst all of the cab companies have their number, most are affiliated with the national number 131 008 – in all capital cities and nearly all country centres that have a cab service.  Capital city cabs companies have Apps, online booking and call centres. Some have special numbers for access cabs, but using the 131 008 number is the easiest to remember and use no matter where you are located.

At airports, central rail stations and ports there is usually no need to book an MPT/WAT before you arrive. Many international and domestic terminals have taxi concierge staff who will assist in procuring a wheelchair accessible cab for you. You can also hail an MPT from a taxi rank or in the street. In Perth, there are also London cabs. However, due to deliberation within the Department of Transport in that state, the access feature on these cabs has been disabled. Irony?

The Australian experience regarding wheelchair accessible cabs is far more relaxed and less convoluted than in other countries. The egalitarian nature of Australia is reflected in this service, whereby a person with a disability is entitled to a taxi service just like everyone else, 24/7 and with no additional charge.

Major centres with the best access cabs? Adelaide, Perth, Mandurah, Cairns.

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