It’s a classic image from the movies. Person in a hurry cries “Taxi!” and one comes skidding to a halt. But for many disabled would-be passengers it’s a prospect that falls far short of reality but which, Helen Dolphin says, is about to come a step nearer.
With less than a quarter of London underground stations claiming to be wheelchair-accessible my main mode of transport when travelling around the capital is in a taxi or mini cab. Although most of my journeys have been very pleasant it is always the horrible experiences that stick in my mind. These have included being told to pay extra for my wheelchair and assistant dog, falling over backwards when the driver let go of my wheelchair whilst pushing me in, being told to ask my dog to stop looking at the driver and the usual frequent problem of taxi drivers failing to stop once they see you’re a wheelchair user.
I’m hopeful, however, that much of the bad practice and discrimination endured by me and fellow disabled people will now be significantly reduced following the news that sections 165 and 167 of the Equality Act 2010 are finally going to be enacted later this year. This means that there will be duties on taxi drivers and private hire vehicles who have an accessible vehicle to, amongst other things, carry a passenger while in the wheelchair, give the passenger such mobility assistance as is reasonably required and not to make any additional charge for doing so.
Initially, it was thought that these changes would be gradually introduced between October 2010 and April 2011 but it just never happened. It wasn’t that section 165 was even anything new as it pretty much replicated section 36 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which was also never brought into force. Disabled people have therefore been waiting for over 20 years for the right to pay the same as a non-disabled person.
Reasons given for not implementing section 165 were that the Government at the time did not want to pursue any policies that might lead to fewer wheelchair-accessible taxis being available or create difficulties for local licensing authorities who may have already adopted a policy of only licensing wheelchair-accessible taxis. However, the current Government’s reason for implementing section 165 and section 167 are that they wish to provide disabled people with a better service and a higher degree of consistency about what they can expect from drivers and a formal avenue for complaint.
But although section 165 and section 167 will go some way to eliminating the discrimination that disabled people face when using taxis and mini cabs it will not address the issue in many cities outside London where there are just not enough accessible cabs to meet the needs of disabled people. This is another battle which is still to be won.