Friday, 17 January 2014

Boro Taxi saga shows there is still a long way to go to change attitudes towards disabled people

Quite often a story comes to our attention which leaves us gobsmacked. Guilty this time around is Boro Taxis. Teeside’s biggest taxi firm has said that they will no longer take disabled passengers.

It all snowballed after Middlesbrough Council received complaints from wheelchair users that they were being charged more by private hire taxi firms.

The official Council Licensing Committee paper which reported on the issue said,

Wheelchair users are being charged up to twice the price of their able-bodied counterparts as a direct consequence of their disability.

The Council decided to take a collaborative approach. Under the ‘Actions to take’ section of their report, they said,

Given the Authority’s consistent wish to work with the trade wherever possible and appropriate, the comparative complexity of the legislation and the apparently widespread level non-compliance, it was determined to address this issue on an advisory basis. As a result, a letter outlining Operators’ obligations and how to comply with them has been sent to the relevant businesses engaged in the sector.

The letter addressed to Members of the Trade in the Borough read,

We are aware that confusion may have been caused by the fact that the specific provisions of the Equality Act 2010 pertaining to hackney carriages and private hire vehicles have not been implemented so I am writing to all Operators to raise awareness of this issue and reiterate that the general provisions under Section 29 of the Equality Act still apply.  As a result I request that you do not impose additional charges in these circumstances. 

Please note that if we receive any evidence in future that additional charges are being levied for the use of wheelchair accessible vehicles by disabled passengers, more formal action will follow, including possible referral to the Council’s Licensing Committee for a review of your Private Hire Operator Licence.

Unfortunately, the boss of Boro Taxis has continued to defend this practice, justifying it on economic grounds. He has even gone a step further by now refusing to take any passengers who use wheelchairs. He is quoted in the press saying,

"The simple fact is if you order a car and four people jump in you are charged for a taxi. If you order an eight-seater minibus and eight people jump in you are charged for a minibus. If you order a minibus and there's only one person you will still be charged for a minibus because that's what you ordered.”

What this does show us is that for some people in society, the concept of disability discrimination is difficult to comprehend. What it also shows that complaining to authorities about injustice can catapult an issue into the spotlight. We hope that it now also instigates change for the better.

After taking the collaborative approach, the Council should now seek to review its stance and refer firms that continue to carry out discriminatory practices to the Licensing Committee for a review of their Private Hire Operator’s Licence. 

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