Newshub Nation: Disabled Kiwis bearing the brunt of public transport crisis

With the public transport system buckling, disabled Kiwis are suffering the most as one of their only ways to get around and live life is further compromised. 

Lately, waiting for a bus seems to take all day, but for some Kiwis, it literally does. 

Māngere local Luhama Niu, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, often experiences huge struggles accessing public transport.

She reported once having to wait "six hours just to get somewhere".

Buses and trains are her only option to get around Auckland as wheelchair-accessible taxis are too expensive for everyday travel.

Even when a bus finally comes, disabled commuters are often not let on board. 

"My worst one was asking a bus driver to kindly let me on," she told Newshub Nation reporter Finn Hogan. 

"He sat there for ages, pondered, and then went 'Oh, wait for the next bus'.

"I just want to be treated like somebody that gets to be human and just go places, but they wouldn't."

She has repeatedly experienced buses being too full to fit her and her chair, drivers refusing to kneel the bus, or drivers simply not stopping the bus at all.

Niu's struggles with transport are detrimental to her ability to live her life but they are far from unique. 

Renata Kotua from the Cerebral Palsy Society said these stories are "a dime a dozen". 

"I've experienced it myself and it's something that we hear on a weekly basis in the society." 

Kotua said some people "are comfortable catching trains but won't go near buses".

"It seems to be a common theme just because of the inconsistency of service and just really not being able to guarantee that they can even board or get on the bus."

It's no secret that Auckland's public transport system is struggling, with widespread disruptions in March leading to a record low in user satisfaction with only one in five users saying they were happy with the service.

This week saw a further wave of cancellations across Auckland's bus and train networks with Mayor Wayne Brown promising to get answers. 

While this can be a serious inconvenience to most public transport users, it's devastating for disabled travellers. 

Kotua said, "because of the delays we miss our connecting travel and then we end up stranded and there is nothing more disabling than being a disabled person who is stranded". 

"That's what knocks their confidence and then it has that domino effect of ‘well I don’t want to do public transport again' but there is actually no other option so the alternative is they stay home and just become reclusive."

Even when disabled Kiwis do make it onboard buses they can face further discrimination. 

As part of Newshub Nation's story, Niu attached a GoPro to her chair while boarding a bus and she was asked by the driver: "You have your chair and can just go straight, why are you catching the bus?"

Niu said interactions like this happen "Monday to Sunday, every day, 365 days a year in my life, every time I’m trying to get somewhere".

Kotua said, "these are not comments that any other passenger would expect to have, so I don't think it's acceptable at all for drivers to be treating our people this way". 

Newshub Nation approached Auckland Transport for a comment and was told "We will be reminding our operators to tell drivers that all customers are welcome on board our services. Auckland Transport (AT) is fully committed to ensuring our whole network is accessible for all. We have done a lot of work in this space over the past few years, with much more planned."

"It’s an ongoing commitment and one that we are fully dedicated to. Our staff are constantly looking at new ways we can improve accessibility across the network."

"The Accessibility action plan ( supports our commitment and provides details on what actions Auckland Transport will undertake over the next three years to improve accessibility."

"We are also creating a driver training programme to help our people identify those with accessibility needs and know how best to support them."

Despite the frustration, Niu keeps up a smile and continues to hope her next trip will be better than the last. 

"You pick your battles and you just go with the flow and all I think is, as long as I'm nice and kind to others, then hopefully, cross my fingers, they do the same to me."

However, Kotua refuses to accept the current state of our public transport as adequate. 

"Accessibility is a right for all New Zealand citizens," she said.

"Making something accessible isn’t just a disability issue for those poor wretched souls in wheelchairs, it's actually something that’s going to lift and be enabling for everyone.

"It’s accessibility for mums and babies in prams, it's accessibility for your grandparents with a walking frame."

Kotua's message is simple. 

"We want to contribute. We want to be a part of society so please, make that happen for us."

Watch the full video for more. 

Watch Newshub Nation 9:30am Saturday/10am Sunday on Three & Three Now, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. 

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.