Changes in sight

Felicity Rogers with her guide dog Wickham. Ms Rogers says she has been repeatedly discriminated against by taxi drivers who do not want Wickham in the car. Picture: Andrew Ritchie www.communitypix.com.au d408442
Felicity Rogers with her guide dog Wickham. Ms Rogers says she has been repeatedly discriminated against by taxi drivers who do not want Wickham in the car. Picture: Andrew Ritchie www.communitypix.com.au d408442

Ms Rogers is a client of Victoria Park-based Association for the Blind of WA – Guide Dogs WA and has welcomed State Government plans to introduce a Taxi Driver Penalty Point system similar to the motor vehicle driver’s licence system, where taxi drivers would accrue penalty points for a breach of several offences, including refusing to carry an assistance dog.

Ms Rogers, who works in the CBD on St Georges Terrace, uses public transport daily to and from her Ellenbrook home, accompanied by her labradoodle guide dog Wickham.

She only occasionally catches taxis but has regularly experienced problems since she got Wickham nearly five years ago, including an incident this year that resulted in a $300 fine for a driver who refused to pick them up from a Mill Street taxi rank after work.

‘I had a witness who recorded the taxi number, so I was lucky,’ Ms Rogers said.

‘It is hard for me to see that sort of detail and the taxi drivers know that.’

The association’s manager of mobility, Zena Gomes, said cases like Ms Rogers’ happened regularly.

‘While most of our clients receive satisfactory service when travelling by taxi, reforms in the taxi industry through the proposed penalty system could help reduce the incidence of those few drivers refusing access to people with a guide dog, which occurs on a regular basis,’ she said.

Despite having just 5 per cent vision, Ms Rogers said it was plainly obvious taxi drivers and even the company they worked for discriminated against her during a heatwave just before Christmas, 2011.

She and Wickham were forced to walk nearly 3km home carrying a bag of Christmas meat after four calls over nearly three hours resulted in either no taxi coming or taxis driving off when they saw her dog.

‘I was picking up some meat from the butcher for Christmas dinner and the taxi I called drove off without even stopping,’ she said.

‘I got back on the blower and was told the taxi driver said they couldn’t see anyone waiting. I had been taken off the queue and had to wait my turn again. It happened another three times.

‘They think they can take advantage of my lack of sight but I can still see when they drive up and off again. It’s obvious.’

Ms Gomes said the Association was very serious about the access rights of its clients and were dedicated to promoting the ‘guide dogs can go anywhere’ message in the community.

All guide dogs from the Association for the Blind of WA – Guide Dogs WA are permitted access to all public areas, including shopping centres, restaurants and cafes, and on all forms of public transport, including trains, taxis and aeroplanes.

The Taxi Driver Licensing Bill was introduced to State Parliament last month.

Transport Minister Troy Buswell said the State Government had limited means of removing taxi drivers who, while not committing criminal or serious misconduct, repeatedly breached taxi regulations.

He said this bill enabled those guilty of those breaches to be managed ‘out of the industry.’