Report into transport experiences of disabled people

On 25 August 2022, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency released a research report on the transport experiences of disabled people in Aotearoa New Zealand. We have summarised their findings.

This information related to Outcome 5 of the New Zealand Disability Strategy (2019-2023), “We access all places, services and information with ease and dignity”. The report is also part of the review of the Total Mobility Scheme.

Waka Kotahi's report is based on various sources including:

  • a literature review
  • previous reports on the transport challenges experienced by disabled people in Aotearoa
  • other relevant survey data, for example data from the 2018 census relevant to transport for disabled people, and a survey and eleven workshops that gathered data from over 15,000 people.

Key messages

  • The review concluded that challenges faced by disabled people using transport in Aotearoa New Zealand have persisted since the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry in 2003. The urgency of solving transport-related issues was raised as they can have a large negative impact on the day-to-day wellbeing of disabled people and their families and whānau.

  • Tāngata whaikaha Māori are the most at risk of transport-based exclusion because they need to access activities and sites in rural areas which are less likely to be accessible by public transport.

  • A lack of accountability for how disabled people travel was identified. Similarly, monitoring and evaluation of whether investment in transport improves the mobility of disabled people is scarce. Better feedback between the transport sector and disabled people would assist in making better improvements to the transport sector.
  • Overall, when disabled people travel it takes longer and requires greater effort than when non-disabled people travel. Because of this, disabled people often will skip a journey and miss out on resources or activities that would have enhanced wellbeing.

  • Challenges such as problems with parking were mentioned most often as a reason for not being able to take a trip, especially recreation, leisure, and daily needs. Accessibility (e.g., footpaths or distance to stop), availability (frequency or lack thereof) and affordability (cost) of transport were also frequently mentioned as a challenge preventing disabled people from making trips.

  • Safety concerns included problems with the footpath and feeling vulnerable on shared paths with bikes and e-scooters. Attitudes of other drivers was also a challenge making disabled drivers and pedestrians feel unsafe.

  • Literature highlights that disabled children are particularly vulnerable and more likely to be involved in an accident as a cyclist or pedestrian. In addition, personal security is a particular concern for people with autism, as they can get lost or catch the wrong service or be victimised. New app-based technology being developed overseas such as OrienTrip is helping to improve accessibility to transport.

  • While Total Mobility does assist disabled people to meet their needs independently, suggested changes such as increasing the subsidy (currently 50%), increasing capacity, incorporating rideshare and improving regional consistency would help disabled people to travel to their destination.

  • There is room to improve attitudes towards disabled people such as increasing awareness on invisible disabilities and why some people use a permit, and enforcing consequences for the use of mobility parks without permits. 

  • Disabled people felt transport planners need greater awareness of their accessibility needs. There is a fear of being left behind in planning for sustainable city centres among disabled people. A whole-of-journey approach is required, where each step in a journey is understood and checked for accessibility[1].

  • In a small additional survey with 200 respondents, of which 139 self-identified as a disabled person, the impact of Covid-19 on the availability of transport during lockdowns was felt more among disabled than non-disabled people e.g., difficulty accessing essential services was greater among disabled than non-disabled (37% vs 10%). Similar differences were found with regards to accessing employment (18% vs 5%) and not being able to make a trip in any given week of lockdown (29% vs 5%).

Things to consider with this report

  • Generalising the results of this report to New Zealand’s disabled population is not recommended due to the sampling methodology. Most respondents were contacted through the email database of CCS Disability Action for individuals who have a current mobility parking permit. When asked about the terms of numbers of trips they make per week by public transport, the most common response in the sample was zero.

  • There is a lack of demographic information about participants, as only a fraction completed these questions (1,211 or 8% of respondents). Of these, most live in Auckland and are between 60-90 years of age, identify as New Zealand European, earn below $40,000, and the most frequent impairment noted was difficulty walking or climbing steps, which relate to aging.

[1] Park, J., & Chowdhury, S. (2021). Towards an enabled journey: Barriers encountered by public transport riders with disabilities for the whole journey chain. Transport Reviews, 42(2), 181–203.

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