Mar 262017
 
Clamping into wheelchair spot in a minibus

With thanks to Dave Lupton / Crippen Disability Cartoons

Back in 1995, the Government put taxi accessibility requirements into the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), but didn’t commence the relevant sections. They said these are to be commenced “from days to be determined“. The provisions hadn’t been commenced 15 years later when the Equality Act replaced the DDA. And they still hadn’t been commenced in 2016, when the Equality Act and Disability Select Committee reported. Baroness Deech said it how it was – “It has been the will of Parliament for 20 years, 20 Years! that taxis be accessible. How many more decades is this going to take?

When the Committee reported in March 2016, the Government mumbled that they would commence the wheelchair taxi discrimination section of the Equality Act (s165). (I can’t say “announced” because it was not.) The Government confirmed this in their response to the Report in July 2016:

Having given careful consideration to the effects of commencing sections 165 and 167 of the Equality Act, including ensuring that drivers understand fully their responsibilities, we will now proceed to bring the measures into force, aiming for commencement by the end of 2016. This will provide wheelchair users with similar protection from discrimination as that already available to assistance dog owners – ensuring that they are provided with the assistance they need to access taxis and private hire vehicles, and that they can no longer be charged extra

S165 and S167 will become law on 6th April 2017 (not “by the end of 2016.”)

So wheelchair users should celebrate at their new-found enforceable rights to taxi travel, then?

No.

S167 allows taxi licensing authorities to compile a list of accessible taxis and private hire vehicles. Note: the authority is not obliged to create such a list. If they produce such a list, and only if, then taxi drivers whose vehicle is on that list are obliged to comply with their duties under S165, those being:

(a) to carry the passenger while in the wheelchair;

(b) not to make any additional charge for doing so;

(c) if the passenger chooses to sit in a passenger seat, to carry the wheelchair;

(d) to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the passenger is carried in safety and reasonable comfort;

(e) to give the passenger such mobility assistance as is reasonably required.

These duties only apply if and when the Local Authority produces a list of accessible taxis, and if the vehicle is on that list, and if the driver hasn’t been awarded an exemption from his or her duties due to medical problems. (Local Authorities have been obliged to process applications for such exemptions since 2010; a Kafkaesque situation that resulted in the Committee’s pithy remark: “taxi drivers can apply for exemption from duties which do not apply and which, since their enactment 20 years ago, have never applied.“)

The Government has recently produced guidance for local authorities to decide whether, how and when to produce a list of accessible taxis.

One would hope that they would recommend all local authorities to get on with it now – after all, they’ve had 20 years warning since the prospective was introduced into the DDA; 7 years since it was repeated in the Equality Act; and another twelve months since the Government said the sections would be commenced. Local authorities already have processes for issuing certificates exempting drivers from the existing obligation to take assistance dogs, and since 2010 have been obliged to have similar processes for driver exemptions to take wheelchair users; so the administrative burden of exempting wheelchair taxi drivers should be minimal.

No.

we recognise that LAs (Local Authorities) will need time to put in place the necessary procedures to exempt drivers with certain medical conditions from providing assistance where there is good reason to do so, and to make drivers aware of these new requirements. In addition, LAs will need to ensure that their new procedures comply with this guidance, and that exemption notices are issued in accordance with Government regulations.

As such, we would encourage LAs to put in place sensible and manageable transition procedures to ensure smooth and effective implementation of this new law. LAs should only publish lists of wheelchair accessible vehicles for the purposes of section 165 of the Act when they are confident that those procedures have been put in place, drivers and owners notified of the new requirements and given time to apply for exemptions where appropriate. We would expect these arrangements to take no more than a maximum of six months to put in place, following the commencement of these provisions, but this will of course be dependent on individual circumstances.

So the obligations on taxi drivers won’t be in place unless and until the licensing Local Authority produces a list of accessible taxis. Local Authorities aren’t obliged to produce a list. If a Local Authority does produce a list, it may be six months before they do, or later if “individual circumstances” warrant it.

Whoopi – blooming – do. I am so grateful to Parliament for being so proactive in litigating for my transport rights.

There are so many holes even if the Local Authority does produce a list.

  • There is no obligation on local authorities, taxi firms or anybody else to increase the number of accessible taxis. The postcode lottery will continue.
    • There aren’t any wheelchair accessible taxis in the town where I live.
    • 100% of London taxis are wheelchair accessible – but only a tiny number of private hire vehicles e.g. Uber.
    • 4% of Inverness taxis are wheelchair accessible.
  • Taxi drivers will only be obliged not to discriminate and to assist wheelchair users who wish to transfer out of their wheelchair and stow it in the boot IF the taxi is fully wheelchair accessible. There will be no such obligation on drivers of inaccessible taxis.
  • There is no definition of what is a “wheelchair accessible taxi”. Licensing authorities have to make up their own. They may choose to list taxis that can accommodate the reference wheelchair – or they may not.
  • The Government intends on producing a UK-wide standardised notice of medical exemption from the obligations, for drivers to display in their cab. But the Government hasn’t got round to it yet. Nor has it said when it will. Evidently, 20 years / 6 years / 1 year’s notice wasn’t enough.
  • No body is tasked with enforcing S165. If and how each Local Authority enforces it is left entirely up to the Local Authority, so yet again, it’s a postcode lottery. S165 could be very much like the Conduct Regulations, which place bus drivers under a similar duty to put down the ramp for wheelchair users and other such access measures. No body is tasked with enforcing the Conduct Regulations, and no driver has ever faced enforcement for breaching them.

The commencement of S165 and S167 of the Equality Act was pretty much the only action the Government took in the face of the damning Select Committee report into the inadequacy of the Act. Their dilatory and rubbish actions emulate their refusal to introduce measures to oblige non-disabled people to shift when a disabled person needs the wheelchair space on the bus.

Andrew Jones MP, the Government minister with responsibility for transport accessibility,  said “This Government is committed to ensuring that transport works for everyone, including disabled people.” But I don’t think the Government’s actions show any such thing. I think the Government is attempting to obliterate disabled people, and is entirely sanguine about committing grave and systematic abuse of disabled people’s rights, so it doesn’t care two hoots about our public transport access needs.

(I don't guarantee that the above is error-free.)

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