What is Travellers Aid?
In this episode, Peta interviews Elias Lobos, CEO of Travellers Aid, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people with disabilities to travel and connect using public transport. The organisation offers services such as mobility assistance, personal care support, companion services, awareness programs to help people navigate the transport system and support during major events held in Melbourne. The episode also explores the importance of social engagement and reducing social isolation for people with disabilities.
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Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host. Like most things in life, when you have a disability, you're not handed a guidebook with your diagnosis. Just because I have a disability doesn't mean that I know everything that's out there as far as services and support and travel aid is certainly one of those things. After speaking to Elias, the CEO of the organisation, Travellers Aid, I've realised how much of a valuable community support this organisation is. For those of you who are listening in Melbourne and you're not aware of this service, you can now utilise it and allow you to be more independent and access the community more readily. This conversation is also very own brand. For travel aside, you'll be able to hear a few sounds of Melbourne in the background. Without any further ado, let's hand over to Elias.
Elias [00:01:20] Hello, Peta. I'm Elias Lobos. I'm the CEO of Travellers Aid a not for profit that has been around for a significant period of time. And today we focus on assisting people to travel and connect, utilising public transport.
Peta [00:01:38] I always like to start as if the audience doesn't know anything about an organisation. So you said before, you assist people in accessing public transport. So what does that mean on the ground? Can you give me some concrete examples?
Elias [00:01:55] We realised, and it's not rocket science, that people's impairments or disabilities or mobility challenges go beyond just assistance at railway stations as we traditionally have been since the early 1900s. So today we focus on assisting with mobility and getting people to connect with people and connect with place. Our focus is using public transport so we don't have a fleet of vehicles, buses or the like, but we do assist people to utilise public transport to connect to everything. Melbourne and parts of regional Victoria have to offer to engage with those services, attractions or events and to participate to the fullest to their abilities. In practical sense, it's about people who may struggle using the public transport system. Getting to any one of those services, if you wish, we may pick them up at the railway station, meet them at the railway station with one of our buggies that you might have seen around Southern Cross Station, and we would escort them either to a connecting public transport service, a taxi or a waiting family member or friend that might be meeting them. If they're travelling the line, if they never use public transport, if they're not familiar with the system itself and how to navigate the system, then we provide some awareness around that as well. We have a companion service, which is a volunteer service that we pair the traveller with an individual who may assist them utilising public transport to get to their final destination, be it a medical appointment, a legal appointment, or sometimes it might be they just want to get to a social event or whatever it might be, and we might help with that. We also provide at our two stations Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations in Melbourne's CBD. Personal care support. So for many people living with a disability or an impairment, they don't want to be dragging their carer around all day just for those five or 10 minutes that they may need to go to the toilet or they may need some assistance with their lunch or morning tea or whatever it might be. And they're more than welcome to come in to one of our facilities at Southern Cross or Flinders Street Station, and all our frontline staff are disability care workers, so they're all qualified in disability care and they can provide that support on request basically without an appointment, without a booking. And it provides the flexibility and choice of being able to move about Melbourne whenever they want to.
Peta [00:05:00] Where do your services cover? So you mentioned Flinders Street Station and you also mentioned Southern Cross Station. Are those two hubs your main focus or do you also service other areas of the network?
Elias [00:05:15] So there are two main hubs in Melbourne. Flinders Street Station in between on the concourse in between platform nine and ten. And Southern Cross Station. And we located under the Bourke Street overpass there. We also have a service that runs out of Seymour Station. And that tends to be more the buggy transfer connection service that we have. We're just about to launch a service in Ballarat at Ballarat Station in conjunction with our partners V Line. And we are also present at a number of the major events that are held in Melbourne. So recently we were very active over the two weeks at the Australian Open at the secular, the festival Moomba, the Grand Prix and the International Flower Garden Show.
Peta [00:06:16] Regular listeners of this podcast will know that I am sometimes limited to be able to access the community because I rely on things like changing places toilet to be able to access the bathroom and having organisations like you that could possibly help me do that would be really life changing. Can you explain why it's so important for people with disabilities to access the community? From your perspective.
Elias [00:06:44] The simple answer is good health and especially good mental health. And that whole concept of social engagement and reducing the impacts of social isolation. It's simply enriching to have all of us and every individual be able to experience those many things that able bodied people and people who don't have impairments. Take for granted. And your your example of going to the toilet or the bathroom, you know, that is probably the the most simplest example because if we I often you see the phrase if you can't go, you don't go. So if you know you can't go to the toilet, you won't get to an event, you won't go to a nightclub, you won't go to a restaurant, you won't participate in engage in life. All those other things that most of us take for granted. And that in itself means that you're reducing people's quality of life. And I think that's why it's important.
Peta [00:07:56] So if people are listening to this and thinking, Oh, I really want to utilise travel as I support, what's the best way for them to contact the organisation?
Elias [00:08:07] You've got our website WW dot travel, as I told you. Or you can ring one of our two sites at Southern Cross Flynn Street, or if you're in regional Victoria, see more sites and see what all those numbers are on our website. With regards to events, then we work closely with those event holders to provide as much information as possible prior to the event so that people can plan and that people also understand what are the limitations of the services. Because we need to be very clear, we can't resolve everybody's challenge and so we try and meet the needs of as many as we possibly can. So it's very important that if you are planning to get to one of these events, then you look at the website and have a look at the accessibility page or how to get there page. And that normally is where you will see our services that are being offered at that particular event. They'll be listed on their web page and then they'll also be listed on our page as well. The last five years or so, we've been spending a lot of energy and time working with our partners and have had holders encouraging them to consider having our services in the first place at the event. And we have been quite successful over the last two years or so in encouraging and influencing some of these event holders, major account holders, to actually start to consider the concept of access and inclusion. Access and inclusion is a good thing to do, not just what we know morally and ethically. It is a good thing to do and it should be done. But we spent a lot of time also talking to some of these event holders and these businesses and making them aware of the commercial benefit that the one in five Australians who are living with some sort of disability or impairment can add to their business bottom line. That's 20% of the population. And research done by the tourism sector in 2018 highlights that many people living with a disability or an impairment rarely travel and participate on their own. And there is a 2.5% multiplier effect because they travel on average with 2.5 other people and those 2.5 other people also spend. And I think business and these have been told is starting to realise that there is a win win situation here by becoming more accessible and more inclusive. So I'm very heartened by those responses and that trend we're seeing of a greater acceptance of having not just our service. There are many other services that do, including into their events, but it's good to see that that's actually starting to happen.
Peta [00:11:21] Through researching to prepare for this conversation. I also understand now that travellers aid assist people during times of crisis. Can you explain how you support people during that time?
Elias [00:11:36] Yeah. So that's a one of our historical services. Ever since we started in 1965, we've been providing emergency relief for travellers within the city. So if you lose your wallet, you lose your myki. If you're stranded in, you know, in Melbourne or whatever it may be, and you need to get back to your place of support, then we can provide you with a travel voucher to get you back to your place of support. Generally, we see a lot of people who are experiencing homelessness and need to get back to family or somewhere where they know that they do have supports. And we we we don't want to move a problem from one place to another. So we want to make sure that that person genuinely has those supports and will provide assistance there. It might be that it's a family that's escaping domestic violence and we work closely with the domestic violence agency to find safe passage for that individual or that family to make their way to wherever they need to get that support. Sometimes it could be that an individual needs to get to an important work interview or something like that, and we might system to get to that interview. We have a small program. We assist a group of students to get to school because we want to ensure that they can maintain their education and they have every opportunity to become independent citizens with a good education or training or whatever it is that they are seeking to do. And as I said earlier on, it could be just as simple as I lost my wallet or my purse and I just need to get home wherever it may be.
Peta [00:13:36] I really appreciate the work that travel as I do in the community, because clearly you are such a great form of support to so many people. Is this a unique concept? Is it only in Victoria or are there other areas in the world that this service exists?
Elias [00:13:56] So we started out under the Young Christian Women's Association movement, and the service predominantly was providing assistance to women and children that were coming into the cities all over Australia. And during World War One, where many women came into the big cities to provide assistance and do the work that the men who'd gone off to war were doing, We were very active in supporting these women to find accommodation and to transit through the city safely and with some confidence. Many of our sister associations throughout Australia didn't continue to operate over time and the only travel site that exists and provides the breadth of service that we do is based in Melbourne, in Victoria, basically. There is a very small office at the Central station in South Australia, but they don't provide anywhere as broad service as we do. We are also affiliated with the Travellers Aid International Movement and they are based in North America. A couple of offices in Canada and Puerto Rico is the other office. So we make up that travel. Azad International component, the three and three of those countries. But predominantly travel, Azadeh, is found all across America in different shapes and forms as well.
Peta [00:15:44] Finally, if I gave you a magic wand that could magically improve accessibility, what area of accessibility would you choose?
Elias [00:15:55] Awareness and education. Two more people on my side of the fence that are aware and educated in some of the challenges and the needs and more importantly, the capacity of people living with disability and the value that they can contribute and add to society. If given the opportunity, then I think the more likelihood businesses and organisations and individuals are going to engage with them. So I have my own experiences every time I meet someone who's has a lived experience and shares that lived experience, I walk away from that interaction thinking. I should do things a little differently or I'm glad I understand that now, because now I can probably provide this or do that. Or is there an opportunity for our business to be able to cater to support? Really create a greater awareness amongst general society, businesses, service operators of what they can do to make that little bit of a difference for someone's experience or their life.
Peta [00:17:12] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you better understand what troubles I does. If you did enjoy this episode, can I encourage you to do a writing interview on whatever platform you're listening on? Share the episode with a friend. Or if you had a guest that you would like to suggest for a future episode of the podcast. You can always contact me by my Instagram. My handle is at Peta. Hook spelt P. A H. Oh, okay. Oh, you can send me an email The I Can't Stand Podcast at GMO dot com. Thanks again for listening. And until next time. Have a good one, guys. Bye. I'd like to pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, but especially to the bunarong people where this podcast was recorded.