Waikato Regional Council has today voted to introduce an accessibility concession, providing approved people with free travel on its public bus services.
The decision by the strategy and policy committee – applauded by an audience of more than 10 people representing the disability community – will go to the full meeting of council next Wednesday (12 December) for final approval.
Waikato will be the first region in New Zealand to provide a 100 per cent accessibility concession, which will come into effect from mid-2019 when the new bus ticketing system is implemented.
During the meeting, councillors heard a presentation from young Hamilton woman, Joy Ho, a regular bus user who had asked the council to consider a disability concession in a submission to the Regional Public Transport Plan earlier this year.
Ms Ho described how buses provide freedom of movement, help her to be more active and get to and from her part-time admin job. She said more than 2500 people had signed a petition supporting her push for a concession.
With the concession, “the opportunities for people with disabilities are endless,” she told councillors.
Geoff Taylor also spoke in support of the proposal, on behalf of Hamilton city councillors.
Russ Rimmington, Waikato regional councillor and co-chair of the Hamilton Public Transport Joint Committee, said: “Buses enable people with disabilities to live more independently – getting to jobs, medical appointments and social engagements.
“A 100 per cent concession will be a first in this country. As a progressive region, it’s important we help persons with disabilities go about their normal day.”
The cost of the concession will be co-funded by the NZ Transport Agency and ratepayers, and it is estimated it will cost the council up to $75,000 per annum.
During the meeting councillors also endorsed an eligibility criteria for the concession, which will be available to any person of any age if it can be demonstrated they have a physical, intellectual, psychological, sensory or neurological impairment that prevents them from being legally able to drive a private motor vehicle or is such that they will be unable to drive once of a legal driving age.
It will be available to those that have a temporary or permanent impairment that results in a transport disability. A temporary impairment means a person will be unable to drive for a period of six months or more but is expected to recover from the impairment.
Renewals will be required.
Also during the meeting, regional councillors voted to support the development of a business case to use a youth concession to get students onto public buses and off the roads.
Hamilton city councillor Geoff Taylor said during the meeting that the city was “grappling with traffic congestion and the morning peak, particularly during school terms”. He said roads were clogged, with a notable improvement during the holidays.
“More roads are not the solution, we need to get people onto public transport,” Mr Taylor told regional councillors.
Hamilton City Council had already agreed to a $25,000 contribution for a business case. Waikato Regional Council agreed to match the amount, subject to 75 per cent of the total cost of the business case being covered by the NZ Transport Agency.