top of page
  • Writer's picturePeta

Why public transport is a nightmare when you have a disability.

This week Peta discuses the many barriers she experiences when using public transport. When personal safety cannot be promised, it is easy to understand why Peta chooses to get around based on how she is likely to be treated while on public transport.

She also opens up talking about a birthday where she was left on a corner on a cold and raining night alone.


Episode transcript:

Peta [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast, answering your questions about what it's like to live with a disability. My name is Peta and I'm your host for this podcast. I have cerebral palsy and I've had a disability all my life.

Peta [00:00:19] This week's question was a great one. The question was from Malcolm. Malcolm asked whether I [Peta] use public transport and what my experiences had been like on public transport living in Melbourne. I definitely have a bit to say. So, let's get to it.

Peta [00:00:44] For those of us who are lucky enough to have access to it, public transport is often a no brainer. For one, it's cheaper, too. Two, it's environmentally sustainable. And three, you get to exercise while you walk to the bus stop, all the tram stop, all the train station.

Peta [00:01:10] For me, my car is one of the most important things to my daily life. It determines my independence. My converted car is very expensive. Despite extensive assistance from the NDIS, it's still very cost-prohibitive for many people. I know I'm very lucky to even have the option to get around, not in a taxi or other public transport. But I have tried.

Peta [00:01:37] I love my car. The level of freedom and control it provides me is very important. Driving my car is the only time where I get to go anywhere anyone else can go. If your car can be driven down there, I can follow you. There's no such thing as steps on the road. Also, when driving my car, it's the only time people really see me as me because you can't see my wheelchair from the road as a pedestrian or when your fellow commuter. You just see a girl in a car as just a motorist, not being inspiring, not being brave, just a part of the traffic that you wish wasn't there.

Peta [00:02:28] This also might seem odd to you, but I actually love when someone beeps at me. Now, I think I do drive well, but if I do something wrong, I get slightly panicked, get thrilled when a member of the public angrily beeps at me. The reason is that member of the public is reacting to my behaviour like anybody else. No special treatment, no feeling sorry for me just treating me like I should be treated.

Peta [00:03:02] The way I'm treated is my main motivator in determining how I get around. I do have access to a tram, train or taxi. I use a car because it determines how I'm going to be treated. When I use public transport I've always had bad experiences. Frankly, it feels like every time I go to use public transport, I have to prepare myself to have a pretty awful time. I think we can safely say we all hate a crowded tram or train. For me when I go on a train I'm relying on the driver seeing me, not ignoring me, seeing me. Being nice enough to put the ramp down for me to get aboard. I can't go independently on the trains here in Melbourne and that drives me nuts.

Person with a disability getting on a train
An example of how people with disabilities need assistance to get on a train

Peta [00:04:07] It's just a little thing but can you imagine if you were late and the train driver didn't see you and then you had to wait another 45 minutes for the next train? It's not the way I choose to conduct my life when I can simply jump in the car and get there because I'm in control and peak times on trams and trains. Oh, my God, they're almost impossible.

Peta [00:04:31] I mean, I look at all you guys who are able-bodied, standing in the smooched in like sardines. It's tricky for you guys to find a spot, let alone maintain personal space. Those of you who use a pram might understand, but when you get aboard, sometimes there's simply no room for my chair. Let alone if the tram floor, for example, is wet, my chair accidentally slips and I'm petrified of running over anyone's foot and hurting them because there's no room for me to manoeuvre. Not good. Too stressful. Opt for the car.

Melbourne tram
A crowded Melbourne tram

Peta [00:05:13] Also, we all know that can be some very unique characters, that use public transport. I think you probably all have a story about an encounter while on public transport. While on trams, I've been asked the following. I've been asked if I wanted to buy drugs. No, thank you. I've been told that if I believed in God, I would be cured.

Peta [00:05:46] Oh, what about the time I was asked by a taxi driver? So how do you have sex? I said, well, sorry, I don't really think that any of your business I wouldn't ask you that. He pushed on and basically said, well, what sort of positions can you do? That sort of unwanted attention is never called for, and when you get sexual questions like that, that, of course, raises the issue of safety. I don't feel particularly safe on public transport, and that's probably the main issue as to why I don't use it. I can't really get out of the way if there's a fight on a tram or someone's in a rage or a delusion, so I do feel like I could be in big danger. I'm envious of all you guys who can just run or jump out of the way. It's a bit hard to jump in a wheelchair.

Peta [00:06:54] If an incident does happen in a taxi, you've got to understand that I can't exactly jump out. First of all, the taxi driver has strapped my wheelchair into the taxi and I can't reach any the buckles to unstrap my wheelchair, so I'm literally tied into his car. Also, the only way for me to get out is for his lift ramp thing to be elevated, allow me to drive backwards into the ramp lifting thing and put down. So I'm basically at this guy's helm of whether I can be let out or not. So I choose to drive a car.

Peta [00:07:39] The lack of control I'm putting myself in situations like that just makes my heart race and I'm honestly not comfortable. Unfortunately, things like Uber and Shebah aren't open to me. I need a converted car from my wheelchair to be able to get in. I can't transfer out of my wheelchair and you can't just put my wheelchair in the boot. It's too heavy and it won't fit. So I wish there was something called Shebah for people with disabilities. I think it would be a great business idea.

Person with a disability getting into a accessible taxi

Peta [00:08:13] Also going back to taxes for a minute, that's assuming they turn up. I have to book accessible taxis days ahead in time. There is a limited number of taxis, many of whom are permanently booked by others with a disability who don't have access to a car. Or the accessible taxis sit at the airport because they're big, they have room for extra luggage and more people. So they're more likely to get a bigger fare if they sit at the airport rather than just wait for random fares from people like me.

Peta [00:08:51] I'll never forget on my birthday, my friends organised a dinner for me on the other side of town. It was my birthday, so I wanted to have a drink with my girls. So I ordered a taxi instead of driving. I ordered the taxi two days ahead. I did it through the app and then I called to confirm that it worked and then they indeed had my booking in the system. Of course, when I rang them, I specified where I had to go so they knew it would be a big fare going from one side of town to the other. I also ordered it an hour and a half earlier than I needed it, because I thought, well if I'm there early, I simply have to wait at the restaurant. I would prefer to be an hour and a half early, then be late.

Peta [00:09:42] I'm a bit wired I don't like them to know where I live, so I tend to walk to a location just near my house where there are lots of houses around. So I waited on a corner for them to pick me up for two and a half hours. I kept. Ringing the taxi service, asking where the taxi was,.

Taxi service [00:10:05] Oh, yes, here they're on their way, literally 10 minutes.

Peta [00:10:09] Half an hour later.

Taxi service [00:10:10] Oh yep, yep, yep. Sorry, he's on his way. Definitely on his way.

a cake falling off a table
A very sad birthday because of a taxi

Peta [00:10:16] I rang the taxi company 15 times that night. No-one turned up. It started to rain and it was dark. I gave up. I turned around and went home on my birthday.

Peta [00:10:34] So as much as I want to use public transport, I currently don't feel safe doing it and that's not OK. And I'm a pretty independent person. I can't imagine what it must be like for other people who have disabilities that mean that it's even harder for them as well. It shouldn't be like this. And I hope one day it isn't, because public transport should be for everyone and we all have the right to feel safe.

Peta [00:11:14] Thanks so much for listening to, let's face it, my slight rant about public transport. If you'd like to ask me a question on the podcast, there are three ways to get in contact with me. One, for Instagram @icantstandpodcast. Two, via email Or three, via the website

Peta [00:11:41] If you don't have a question just yet but I would like to help out the podcast. You can also write a review on whatever platform you're listening on or recommend the podcast to someone you think would find it interesting. I hope I have your ears again next week. Thanks so much.


bottom of page