Thank you Mr/Deputy/Speaker and I welcome this Bill brought forward by the the Rt. Hon. Member for Kenilworth and Southam.
This Bill is to make provision relating to the carrying of disabled persons by taxis and private hire vehicles and would improve access to private transport for disabled people. The Bill will amend the sections of the Equality Act 2010 relating to the carriage of disabled people by taxi and PHV. It aims to address inconsistencies within current legislation and expand the protections currently afforded to wheelchair and assistance dog users to all disabled people, regardless of the vehicle they travel in.
The Bill will oblige taxi and PHV drivers to accept passengers with a wide range of disabilities who could reasonably travel in that vehicle and stop them from charging extra or failing to provide reasonable assistance without good reason not to do so. Drivers must make every effort to ensure the disabled passenger feels comfortable and safe while travelling.
This will be beneficial to not only service users but also the wider industry. This Bill will ensure that the hard working, honest and compassionate taxi and private hire vehicles drivers do not have their reputations tarnished by the small number that do not respect their role as a professional driver. I have some excellent taxi drivers in Hastings and Rye, and would like to highlight the work undertaken by Chris Vale and his team, particularly during the lockdowns.
Taxis and wheelchair-accessible private hire vehicles are a vital source of transport for many mobility impaired and other disabled people, in both urban and rural areas. Disabled people make twice as many journeys by taxi and PHV each year compared to non-disabled people, but many continue to report facing discriminatory behaviour from drivers, including outright refusal of service, overcharging and a failure to provide assistance to enable them to board and travel in vehicles in reasonable comfort and safety.
While the 2010 Equality Act provides disabled people with some protection, it applies inconsistency and only with respect to certain disabilities. Currently, in some areas (mainly larger cities), licensed taxis have to be wheelchair accessible. In London, for example, all black cabs are wheelchair accessible. S 165 of the Equality Act 2010 obliges drivers of wheelchair taxis and private hire vehicles to carry wheelchair users and provide assistance without an additional charge.
Drivers of taxis and designated wheelchair-accessible PHV have a legal duty to –
- Transport the passenger while in the wheelchair
- Not make any additional charge for doing so
- Take steps as necessary to ensure a passenger is transported safely and in reasonable comfort
- If the passenger chooses to sit in the passenger seat, to transport the wheelchair
- Give the passenger mobility assistance as is reasonably required - as defined in the Equality Act 2010
Non-compliant drivers are liable to prosecution and fines of up to £1000 and the driver’s fitness to continue to hold a licence may be reviewed.
Some of the newer ‘black cabs’ are also fitted with induction loops and intercoms for hearing aid users.
Guide dogs, hearing dogs and other assistance dogs trained by Dogs for the Disabled, Support Dogs or Canine Partners must be allowed into the taxi or minicab with a passenger, unless the driver has an exemption certificate. This can be issued if the driver has a medical condition made worse by contact with dogs.
A driver with an exemption certificate will have a ‘Notice of Exemption’ notice on their vehicle windscreen.
It is illegal to be charged extra to travel in a taxi or minicab with an assistance dog - the driver could be fined up to £1,000 if they breach this rule.
We can see that there are legal rights for wheelchair users and owners of assistance dogs to use taxis and PHVs. Many drivers are extremely helpful, but we hear too many stories of disabled people being denied transport, assistance or even charged extra for their journeys. Not all disabilities are apparent; some people are disabled due to cognitive or sensory impairment or have difficulty in communication.
A new duty will also be created for drivers to assist disabled passengers to identify and find the vehicle they have booked and without making any additional charge for doing so. This will be on the condition that the driver is made aware before the start of the journey that the passenger requires assistance to identify or find the vehicle. It is expected that this provision will be particularly helpful for visually impaired passengers and those with learning disabilities or cognitive impairments
By 2030, the Government has said that it wants to support the creation of an inclusive transport network, enabling disabled people to travel to work or at their leisure easily, confidently and without additional cost. This is part of the Government’s broader efforts to close the 30 per cent gap between the employment of working age disabled and non-disabled people.
The Government’s existing Inclusive Transport Strategy highlighted the inconsistent application of the Equality Act in terms of the duties it places on taxi and PHV drivers.
The Government’s 2021 National Disability Strategy committed to take forward legislation to strengthen the law on the carriage of disabled people in taxis and PHVs to ensure protection from overcharging and the provision of appropriate assistance, regardless of the service they choose to use.
This National Disability Strategy revealed a host of initiatives which set out to provide improvements of disabled passengers such as an accessibility audit for all railway stations, clearer audible and visual announcements on buses, the introduction of legislation for taxis and private hire vehicles in Parliament, and £1million to improve access at seaports.
The Government partnered with Scope to develop a charter for disabled passengers that will help boost confidence across our road and rail network and produce a practical guide to pull together disabled passengers’ rights so they understand how they can get from A to B with the dignity and ease they deserve. Scope research indicates that passengers who travel often, encounter a vast number of documents concerning their rights, and can be unclear. Working on this feedback, the charter will now bring together existing information for passengers focusing it into one coherent and easy-to-use format.
Once the Disabled Persons Passenger Charter is complete, it will be published online, creating an all-inclusive facility for passenger rights and complaints procedures.
Taxis and private hire vehicles along with public transport should be accessible for everyone and the charter will help disabled passengers better understand their rights, the standards they should expect across the network and how to hold providers to account when travel goes wrong.
S167 of Equality Act currently provides only that Local Licensing Authorities may maintain a list of Wheelchair Accessible taxis and PHVs. However, only 70 per cent of Local Licensing Authorities have done so. This means that drivers in areas without a list have been able to continue discriminating against disabled passengers, even if the vehicle is technically wheelchair accessible. To address this, the bill will require Local Licensing Authorities to maintain and publish such a list and S167a creates new offences where PHV operators fail or refuse to accept a booking from a disabled person because of their disability or charge extra for fulfilling any of the disability-related duties as specified in the Equality Act.
This Government is committed to transforming the transport network, including for taxis and private hire vehicles, making it more inclusive and bringing easier travel for disabled people. The first evaluation report of progress against the Government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy was recently published (10th January), which incorporates evidence provided by disabled people on their transport experiences. This important report will help put future changes in place and create a fairer system for everyone.
This Bill deserves our wholehearted support.