A QUADRIPLEGIC and a former driver of a multi-purpose taxi have joined with others calling for a reform of the current Acrod Parking Program in WA.
Taxi driver Mark Dungey and Eric Cook, who has been in a wheelchair for 18 years, say that a severe lack of bays is compounded by lax regulation of permit holders and a lack of consequences for people who park in Acrod spaces without permits.
The pair spoke with the Melville Times after reading the complaints of self-proclaimed disabled access activist Peter Harris, who expressed his frustration with a new Acrod bay configuration that in some cases has resulted in fewer overall spaces.
While both men favour the new configuration, which has an empty space between bays to allow easy access for side-entry cars, they say it does not address major safety issues still faced by those travelling in the far more common rear-entry vehicles.
Mr Cook, from Cloverdale, hurt his spine in a car accident 18 years ago and has been in a wheelchair ever since. Former St James taxi driver Mr Dungey ferried Mr Cook to and from hundreds of locations in a rear-entry vehicle he drove for Black and White Cabs.
“The biggest issue with a rear-entry car is that Acrod bays are not deep enough for the person in the wheelchair to back out safely,” Mr Dungey said.
“There is always a stream of traffic going past right where you are trying to get people off and other drivers just don’t seem to care that you have a wheelchair-bound person trying to dodge traffic as they get out.”
Mr Cook now owns a side-entry car and said the new Acrod bay configuration was a step in the right direction, but did nothing to address other serious underlying problems.
“It doesn’t solve the overall issue that one, there are not enough bays, and two, there are too many people who don’t really require Acrod permits who have them,” he said.
“The Acrod system to me really needs to be revamped. It is too easy for a person with a temporary disability, maybe after a hip or knee operation, to continually renew their permit even once their condition has improved.”
There were just over 76,000 Acrod permit holders in WA at the end of 2015, the equivalent of 3 per cent of the State’s population.
Despite this, the Building Code of Australia specifies that just 2 per cent of parking bays in retail commercial centres (up to 1000 bays) be for people with disabilities. After the first 1000 bays, only 1 per cent is required.
A spokeswoman for National Disability Services disputed Eric Cook’s claim that obtaining an Acrod parking permit was too easy.
“The application and renewal process for Acrod permits is rigorous and comprehensive,” she said.
“There is no automatic renewal process – when a permit expires the permit holder must provide new medical evidence from a healthcare professional (a GP or occupational therapist) that they are either unable to walk or their ability to walk is severely restricted.
“Temporary permits are issued if an applicant has a medical condition that is expected to severely affect their ability to walk for at least six months.
“When it expires, the permit holder can apply for their permit to be renewed, and must provide new evidence from a GP or occupational therapist.”
The spokeswoman acknowledged that a shortage of Acrod bays was a growing problem and said the best way to improve theissue was through more rigorous monitoring of the lots.
“We believe the monitoring and enforcement of fines to ensure that Acrod bays are available to those who need them is under-resourced,” she said.
“Currently the enforcement process is hit and miss. Some local governments send rangers to regularly monitor ACROD bays; others do it rarely – and many illegal parkers count on this.
“While the maximum court imposed penalty for illegally parking in an ACROD bay has recently been increased to $2000, this is only effective as a deterrent if it is regularly applied.”