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The NDIS was heralded as the next best thing after sliced bread, but frankly, despite lots of budget and planning meetings, it’s all gone stale.

Even National Disability Services, a chief supporter and proponent of the scheme has declared the NDIS a disaster zone, and for us, there is no more disastrous an issue than transport under NDIS.

I preach to the converted when I write this for Community Transport, but I’ll keep saying it, over and over, until the message sinks in to Government, planners, package providers and participants – the real cost of transport is far greater than you think.  The real cost of transport has been hidden behind subsidies like the Home and Community Care Program, the Community Care Supports Program (CCSP) and the Community Transport Program, and we as Community Transport services will no longer be able to subsidise your transport with our funding.

The time has come for both government and participants to dip into their own funding packages to pay the full cost of the transport.  Because honey, we ain’t gonna do it anymore.

Now I’m not pointing the finger of blame at participants.  Until now they have had the unfortunate luxury of package providers and CCSP services hiding real costs by simply dealing with their finances, and they have only seen the small amount of cash payment made for transport after all the subsidies have been dealt with.  But government, package holders and planners have been in this space for a long time, yet still refuse to realistically budget for transport for those who need it most.

I was fortunate enough to meet with the NSW Minister for Disability recently and I left that meeting completely disheartened, not just because the Minister denied that there were any problems with the NDIS and transport, but also because senior members of the NDIS and Family and Community Services representatives who were also in attendance denied it as well. This was very strange, considering that National Disability Services (NDS) Australia’s disability advocate, found that 25% of NDIS participants felt that they were worse off under the scheme.

It is my opinion that the Minister can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to the NDIS and transport.  I also believe that if he and others who are putting their head in the sand about this don’t change their perspective, the program’s failings are going to affect the people that it is supposed to protect.

So, let me give you a cost analysis on a typical community transport user under the NDIS – one of the people who, according to those people in our recent meeting, don’t actually exist.

Jim,* is a young man whose disability precludes him from driving or using public transport.  Jim’s transport needs include regular trips to day programs within his own town, and occasional long-distance trips to respite in another town.

Taxi services (charging at least 45% more than the local community transport service) are providing the regular short-distance transport using Jim’s NDIS travel allowance. The problem however, arose when it came to his long-distance transport.

The package manager knew her stuff when negotiating, and was aware that community transport could charge no more than $44.72 per hour, as specified in the NDIS price guide released in July 2017.

The entire amount, at the most, that the community transport provider could charge for this long-distance transport was $67$67 for removing a productive vehicle from the fleet for at least half a day, paying a driver (even reimbursing a volunteer) for at least half a day, vehicle and fuel costs for long distance travel, and of course the opportunity cost of other customers lost due to the unavailability of that vehicle and driver.  It doesn’t take an MBA to work out that such costing, based on time, is completely unfeasible for a business of any sort.

Advice was sought from the NDIS which confirmed that the figures were indeed correct.  But not only did the NDIS representatives confirm the costing, they actually agreed that it was an impossibly low price for the service to be provided by community transport.

Jim and his package manager were not fazed however, and at the suggestion of community transport, contacted their local NDIS social support providers.  Under their NDIS costing allowances for social support, the trip was quoted at $640.  They refused the business because the quote was too low for their business sustainability.

So where did this leave Jim, and Community Transport, and Social Support?  Up NDIS Creek without a paddle.  No-one was a winner, least of all Jim.

Before the NDIS came along, community transport services would be continually asked to provide subsidised, discounted transport to disability package holders because all funding in an individuals’ package was eaten up by other services those package holders felt were more worthy, deserving and important than transport.  Well guess what?  It’s still happening under NDIS, except we are being asked to drop our already low prices even further.

The time has come for transport to be recognised as THE enabling and wellness service, which underpins every aspect of achieving quality of life and the goals of individuals participating in the NDIS.

The time has come for government to fund transport seriously, because without community transport, they’ll be there with us, paddling upstream against a serious current.

 

*not the real name of a participant.

This Blog is the personal opinion of Bethany Simmonds who is the Chief Executive Officer of Coffs Harbour, Bellingen and Nambucca Community Transport, Chair of the Community Transport Organisation (CTO) NSW and Chair of the Australian Community Transport Association (ACTA)

 

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