Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Wheelchair rugby player retires to create accessible rideshare app

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Anauli Karima Fai'ai | Reporter/Director

Samoan Barney Koneferenisi is a wheelchair rugby icon, often compared to barnstorming legend Jonah Lomu. 

He considers last year’s Paralympics his crowning achievement after gaining a late call-up to the squad and scoring a memorable 23 tries against the USA.

“I’ve heard from a lot of different athletes about the Paralympics and all of that, but for you to go out and experience it yourself was the best thing,” he says.

“Wheelchair rugby has been a part of my life since I was 12 years old, in and out of the country, just travelled and all that.”

But with success came the trials and tribulations and the ongoing struggle of getting to training.

Barney Koneferenisi is an inspirational figure on and off the court. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images

“The trains don’t go everywhere, and the buses don’t want to take you, There are times when I would watch my Dad get out of the car, and the dude just looks like he is about to faint because he’s tired, and then I ask him ‘, Dad can you take me to training and he’s like ok.'”

Barney primarily relies on taxis and rideshare services to get around these days, but those trips often come at a price.

“90% of the time whenever a taxi driver picked me up, he or she will always take longer routes to raise the meter, So they’re like ‘this guy’s got a half-price card, he wouldn’t mind if it cost him $200’, like from Otara to my house shouldn’t cost more than $40.”

This became the catalyst for Barney to begin researching an alternative solution for people with disabilities, soon discovering that many others were facing similar challenges.

“For people on limited income, they only make 300 dollars a week, and they need to spend 65% of that money on medical expenses,” he says.

“I mean, it’s expensive living in Auckland, but having a disability at the same time is like triple the money used and being on a limited income at the same time, it’s hard.”

Barney is on a mission to create his own rideshare app for people with disabilities called Safe Rides. Photo: Attitude

Now he’s on a mission to change that by creating his own rideshare app for people with disabilities called Safe Rides.

“When you go into our app, you have the option of selecting a hoisted van, A female passenger can select a female driver to pick them up, so that will hopefully make the female passenger feel a lot safer during the ride.”

Meeting the costs to develop an app is challenging, costing upwards of $40,000. But earlier this year, Barney caught the attention of Mobili, who offered to make the app for free.

CSO Mieszko Jan Iwaskow says the opportunity will allow them to implement their learnings in other areas to make a difference.

“Until we actually sat down and had a discussion, we weren’t fully aware of the extent of all the issues. I learn stuff every time we have a chat, there’s always other things, you always pick up and learn,” he says.

Givealittle page set up to help Barney with his app development

All Barney needs to do now is raise funds to get his first accessible van up and running, setting up a Givealittle page to raise $150,000.

“I am hoping to have four or five vans – now this is me dreaming. If we can operate more than four, then I’ll be over the moon.”

As for wheelchair rugby, he’s called it a day but credits his teammates’ experiences for inspiring him to create a much-needed service.

“Whether it be through discrimination or assault on public transport and all of that, that pushed me even more to make a final decision and say, ‘Well, rugby has got to go. I’ve got to make a final decision on this because there are a lot of people in my community that need me.'”

Barney aims to release the app in December. You can donate to his Givealittle page here.



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