Like most young people around my age (I’m 26) I like to go out clubbing at night. I went out twice a week when I was at university, and would be out until 3am. I’ve even done a few all-nighters and partied until about 6am, which I can’t do too often without becoming a zombie!
Now that I’ve left university I try to go out about once a week. But of course I actually have to get to the club before I can start partying – and that is not as easy as you might think.
I use a private minibus to travel from my home village to the nightclub in Lincoln city centre, a distance of about 8 miles. I use a minibus because there is plenty of room inside it for my power chair to be clamped down safely. It’s also quite reliable as we have to book it in advance so we know it will be there waiting for us when it’s time to go home. The problem however is the cost. It’s not cheap. It costs an eye watering £93 to drive to the club and back, a round trip of 16 miles. It’s ridiculous. I could get to London for cheaper than that and London is about 160 miles away!
You’re probably wondering why I don’t use a different taxi. Well I’ve tried normal black cabs which have a small ramp beneath the side door. If I manage to drive up the ramp without tipping over there is no room to turn around inside. So I have to sit sideways throughout the entire journey, and without a seatbelt and without chair clamps. Wheelchairs are supposed to face backwards when in cabs, and then the clamps and seatbelt could be used. So, having to sit sideways is not only dangerous but also illegal. I have had to use these cabs before though as I didn’t have much choice.
When I was at university I could catch a normal bus to the club but because they stopped running at 11:25pm I had to get some sort of taxi or minibus home at 3am. It was only two miles from my accommodation to the club but even so a private minibus company charged me £35 each way. I didn’t want to spend this much money so I had to try and get a normal cab which would only charge £8 each way. At closing time taxis usually swarm around the club picking up students but only about one in 20 of these taxis would be suitable for my wheelchair. Even then it’s not guaranteed that there will be any at all and if there are they don’t hang around very long, as other students usually jump on them as soon as they arrive before we have a chance to talk to them.
It’s not fair that we have to pay so much for a minibus just because our chairs don’t fit in normal taxis. So my choice is to travel home extremely expensively but safely and with peace of mind, or, cheaply but dangerously and illegally. Talk about a Catch-22 situation.
I contacted my local MP when I was at university in Leicester, and I asked him to investigate why there were so few wheelchair accessible taxis available at night. He investigated on my behalf and replied that there was not enough demand for them. I refuse to believe that there are so few disabled people that want to go out at night. It is far more likely that their circumstances prevent them from doing so. Most disabled people would not be able to afford a private minibus so they would have to rely on normal cabs. If the wheelchair is small enough they may be okay but if like mine the chair is large they could have a problem.
I am lucky that I can afford to use a private minibus to accommodate my chair but most disabled people would not be able to do this. I am willing to pay the extortionate cost because I enjoy going out so much and the alternative would be sitting at home doing nothing. It shouldn’t be like this though. There should be an affordable and safe means of transport available that is accessible for everyone to use whenever they want. We need to show that demand is great enough for such a service and then hopefully change will be more forthcoming.