Cab leaves no room for wheelchair user

A taxi driver broke the rules and parked his taxi between two parking spaces for the disabled at a mall over the weekend in an incident that has left a wheelchair user fuming and highlighted the abuse of such parking spaces here.

Mr Cai Zhenquan, who has Becker's muscular dystrophy, had just had lunch and finished shopping with his parents at the IMM shopping mall on Saturday afternoon when they found a taxi parked next to their car in the mall's carpark.

The ComfortDelGro cab driver had squeezed his car between their car and another car in two parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities, leaving no space for Mr Cai, 32, who uses a wheelchair, to get into the front seat of their car.

Mr Cai, a software engineer, said in a complaint letter to ComfortDelGro that this caused "quite a bit of delay", and he was in a rush to get home to use a cough assist machine. He needs to use this as he finds it hard to cough out phlegm due to his medical condition. He added that he needs to sit in an inclined position in the front passenger seat because of his condition.

Mr Cai said they were unable to find IMM security officers to help them, and his father had to drive the car out of the parking space and pull over somewhere for him to get on board in the "middle of traffic".

ComfortDelGro's group corporate communications officer, Ms Tammy Tan, said: "Our cabbies are fully aware that they are not allowed to park in handicap lots.

"Our cabby has been severely warned for doing so. We have also apologised to Mr Cai for the inconvenience caused," she said. ComfortDelGro did not identify the cabby involved.

Yesterday, Mr Cai wrote back to ComfortDelGro saying he was "definitely not satisfied with this 'official apology'".

"I hope you do understand that there is a deeper issue of your cabby infringing the rights of persons with disabilities," he added.

IMM Building's general manager, Mr Chew Hock Chye, said a shopper alerted staff to the incident at about 3.40pm that afternoon, and they tried to page for the driver.

After three unsuccessful attempts, they wheel-clamped the cab. The driver appeared at around 5pm to pay a $100 fine.

Mr Chew said: "We empathise with Mr Cai's encounter... Our security guards patrol our carpark regularly and we will not hesitate to clamp illegally-parked vehicles."

Mr Cai told The Straits Times over e-mail: "The monetary value (of the fine) is insignificant compared with the driver's disrespect for persons with disabilities. The cabby should acknowledge that he knows the purpose of handicap lots and apologise in the papers in his personal capacity," he added.

Disabled People's Association president Nicholas Aw said incidents of motorists abusing parking spaces for people with disabilities are "very prevalent", especially in crowded places such as malls and hotels. "There should be legislation in place to provide for stricter enforcement action to deter people. Fines don't really help. Perhaps demerit points will," he said.

This article was first published on January 5, 2016.
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