Paralympian Barney Koneferenisi is raising money to start a ride-share service for people with disabilities, after struggling for years on public transport and current rideshare options.
Koneferenisi, who represented New Zealand in our Paralympics rugby team the Wheel Blacks, told Breakfast he has had up to 15 Ubers cancel rides with him one after the other upon seeing he was a wheelchair user on the app.
"They don't turn up, they see that my profile has a wheelchair symbol, so when they see the wheelchair symbol they cancel the ride, so back-to-back-to-back cancellations.
"The first time it happened my feelings were hurt because I thought 'they don't want to take me, there's no point going out of the house'. Slowly, gradually over the years it's happened over time and I just got used to it, it's a normality now."
But Koneferenisi thought, after surveying 300 people in the same boat, there was no point complaining to the current big organisations.
So, having a degree in both law and commerce, Koneferenisi is instead working to create a new service for Kiwis with disabilities.
"We know exactly what we go through, we know exactly what these services need, we know exactly what training these drivers need, we know exactly what sort of vehicles we need," he said.
But it's no cheap venture to develop an app, buy vans, install hoists, and so on.
Koneferenisi said he had applied for 70 to 80 Government and other grants but "month by month we always got told that 'I'm sorry but we don't fund ventures like this, best of luck'".
However, Ministry of Social Development Office for Disability Issues director Brian Coffey told 1News the ministry hadn't had any direct contact with Koneferenisi about his rideshare venture.
"We understand he has not applied for any MSD funding or grants to support this business. Although, we're aware that the Office of the Minister for Disability Issues and Social Development and Employment had some positive correspondence with him late last year," he added.
"Our understanding is that MSD doesn't have funding to support starting up this particular type of venture. However, we understand the Minister's office provided Barney with a few options that he could investigate in his search for funding, including other Government agencies and the Callaghan Innovation.
"We wish Barney all the very best in this venture to create safer transport options for disabled people, and look forward to hearing of his progress."
Koneferenisi has set up a Givealittle page to raise money. As of 3pm on Wednesday, just over $16,200 had been raised.
"I applaud Barney's intrepid spirit, and I hope he is able to get financial support for his initiative," Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero told 1News.
"Lack of appropriate and accessible public transport has long been a problem for disabled people. Covid has made the situation worse.
"It perplexes me that transport providers still don't appear to recognise around 24 per cent of Aotearoa New Zealand's population identifies as disabled and so provide a range of options for a diverse population. So many problems can be worked through when disabled people are consulted with."
In a statement to 1News, the Health and Disability Commissioner added that under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights "people who require disability support services have the right to receive an appropriate standard of care that meets their needs and upholds their dignity and mana".
"This includes, where necessary, safe and appropriate equipment aides and in some circumstances mobility assistance."
Additional reporting by Oliver Cowan.