Special-needs taxi lapses vex parents

STRESSED: Jill Sim with her intellectually disabled daughter Rachael, 14. Ms Sim is upset at  Wellington Combined Taxis’ service.
STRESSED: Jill Sim with her intellectually disabled daughter Rachael, 14. Ms Sim is upset at Wellington Combined Taxis’ service.

Special-needs pupils have been forgotten, abandoned at wrong addresses and left to cross roads on their own as a new taxi service turned into what one college called a "bloody nightmare".

The Ministry of Education and Wellington Combined Taxis have acknowledged "teething issues" in Porirua, since the company took over the tender from Porirua Taxis to transport special-needs pupils to school this year.

Tawa mum Jill Sim said she felt like a "second-class citizen" when she was told the company was too busy to collect her intellectually disabled daughter and take her to Mana College yesterday.

Since Rachael, 14, began school last Wednesday, she had dealt with various drivers and late pickups. When no driver showed up yesterday, Ms Sim was told the company was busy and a taxi was not dispatched.

"It's going to cause me some stress every morning, wondering if a taxi is going to come or not. It's stressful enough having children with special needs. I've got no idea from day to day who is coming to get my daughter."

Mana College head of student services Rex Parker said the new taxi service for its Te Whare Ako pupils had been a "bloody nightmare".

Taxis had been up to an hour late delivering pupils to school and home. One delivered an autistic pupil to the wrong address, and left him wandering by himself, when the driver should have checked that his parents were there.

The company was meant to meet parents to discuss the safety needs of the school's 24 children, but had not, Mr Parker said. Some pupils had severe epileptic seizures, and autistic pupils had anxiety attacks that could be dangerous for drivers they did not know.

Highly anxious "meltdowns" could cause "computers to start flying around the room". "We're in a position where we have to put up with the fiasco we are given. But it has all these knock-on effects."

Mazina Jalal's 17-year-old autistic son, Shameel, was dropped off nearly an hour late outside her work - which is five minutes from Mana College - across the other side of the road in pouring rain.

"He could have been hit by a car, and the driver took off. He doesn't know how to cross the road and I'm fuming."

The service had been "totally chaotic", late every morning and night, and providing different drivers for her son, who did not like new faces. "This is a Mickey Mouse taxi system," she said.

Fifteen of Mahinawa Specialist School's 61 students were not delivered on time the first day of term yesterday.

Wellington Combined Taxis chief executive Lynne Hayman said the company was still investigating "teething issues" within the Porirua school cluster.

Although the Porirua contract was new, the company was "very experienced", transporting about 200 students within Wellington.

"You can always expect some teething issues when you start a new school term and year. We acknowledge there has been issues and we're doing absolutely all we can to get it sorted. These are precious cargo, and we have to make sure they get to school on time."

Ministry resourcing group manager John Clark had asked Wellington Combined Taxis for an explanation, and all parties had "undertaken to resolve these problems".

The Dominion Post