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‘Plus One’ Free Bus Travel A Life Changer For Disability Community

Free bus travel for carers of accessbility concession holders will be a life changer, says Waikato Regional Council.

Councillors recently backed a regional connections committee recommendation to give eligible people an accessibility concession ‘plus one’ for free bus travel. Waikato Regional Council will start processing and implementing requests from 1 February 2021.

Regional connections commitee chair Angela Strange said, “I’m really excited we’ve been able to introduce this New Zealand first concession. It will be life changing for around 300 accessbility concession card holders who can only travel with a companion. It’ll change their quality of life and enable independence for those vulnerable members of our community.”

There are currently 2400 people who hold the accessibility concession card for free bus travel, which was introduced by Waikato Regional Council in 2019.

At last month’s committee meeting, wheelchair user and the committee’s disabiity representative Maurice Flynn said the cost of paying the fare for a travel companion often ends up in the lap of the person with the disability.

“In the disabled community there’s high unemployment and low income so the ongoing cost of travelling is a huge barrier if you can’t drive,” he said. “This added concession to include a travel companion will be great. It’ll remove the burden of cost from the person with the disability.”

The free bus travel is available to people with a permanent or short-term disability of longer than six months. People with a short-term disability less than six months are not eligible.

An eligibility assessment is carried out by a disability agency or a general practitioner to verify the concession card holder always requires a travel companion, or at times needs a support specialist, due to the nature of their transport disability.

“In these instances their Bee Cards will be reissued to show a plus one entitlement to cover their travel companion when they board the bus,” said Waikato Regional Council’s public transport manager Andrew Wilson.

The card holder tags on as normal, then shows the driver the ‘plus one’ Bee Card so it can be recorded and a ticket issued, he said.

Hamilton city councillor Sarah Thomson said the idea of a plus one card “came from conversations we had with the community around how we make public transport more accessible”.

“I think it’s a really positive change which reduces transport barriers for people who need assistance to travel. It also makes a lot of sense because for someone who needs assistance, a travel companion is no different to a mobility aid,” Cr Thomson said.

Accessibility card holders can register their interest in the ‘plus one’ concession by calling 0800 205 305 or visiting the BUSIT counter at the Transport Centre in Bryce Street.

The regional connections committee comprises councillors from Waikato Regional Council and Hamilton City Council, alongside representation from the disability community and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.

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