With the introduction of new rules about carrying disabled passengers, Wirral taxi drivers have come out ahead of the game over their legal duty to carry wheelchair users.
According to new legislation, taxi drivers across the UK face a legal duty to carry wheelchair using passengers. In an announcement made by Transport Minister Andrew Jones, he said he aimed to implement anti-discrimination measures by the end of the year after bowing to pressure to end two decades of inaction after the law was first approved by Parliament.
Taxi drivers in the Wirral have shown renewed support for these measures, however they are already well ahead of the new laws as they have been enforcing these rules locally for the past 14 years!
The forward thinking Wirral Council had already adopted the rules, and since 2002, it has been a requirement that all hackney taxis licensed by Wirral Council have had to be wheelchair-accessible.
This rule has been part of the conditions of licence by the council for a number of years, and they stipulate that hackney carriage vehicles must have wheelchair ramps and securing straps within the vehicle at all times.
A council spokesman commented to local press, “Before the council grants a licence for a hackney carriage or private hire driver licence, the applicant has to obtain a recognised qualification.”
A course undertaken by taxi drivers leads towards this qualification, and includes a module that covers the legal aspect and practicalities of safely transporting wheelchair users. The course is for both hackney carriages and private hire vehicles operating in the Wirral area, and reinforces the rule that all drivers must carry guide dogs at no extra cost. This has been the case in the Wirral area since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
Any complaints received by the council from the general public about these requirements not being adhered to properly have been quickly addressed, and the system has worked well for many years.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, guide dog and wheelchair users cannot be refused access to taxis and other private hire vehicles. However, only the guide dog sections were ever brought into force, leaving many wheelchair users unable to use many taxi and private hire services, despite the wheelchair provisions being included in the Equality Act of 2010.
According to the legislation, a taxi must carry a passenger in their chair at no extra charge and “take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the passenger is carried in safety and reasonable comfort”. Taxi drivers must also allow disabled passengers to ride in the passenger seat if they so wish, and transport the passengers wheelchair along with them at no extra charge, and give the passenger such mobility assistance as is reasonably required.
Disability campaigners welcomed the news, but were also concerned about the enforcement of the rules, especially with regard to guide dog owners. Many disabled people with guide dogs have complained about them still being refused by some drivers.
With the laws now being tightened up, it is hoped that taxi drivers will realise they have a clear duty to assist passengers with guide dogs and wheelchairs, and making it a criminal offence to charge them extra for carrying wheelchairs or guide dogs.