Coventry city council has been accused of breaching discrimination laws over its long-standing refusal to licence larger, more accessible vehicles as taxis.
The council is now one of only five local authorities in England – the others are London, Harlow, Maidstone and Burnley – that are still refusing to licence larger vehicles such as the E7, a Peugeot minibus converted to be wheelchair-accessible by Allied Vehicles.
The council claims this is because larger models like the E7 do not have tight enough turning circles, but critics say the council has delayed making a decision because most of the city’s taxis are TX models, manufactured by The London Taxi Company, which is based in Coventry.
A handful of Coventry black cabs are Mercedes-Benz Vito Taxis, which are more spacious than the traditional London cab, but also more expensive and still not as accessible as vehicles like the E7.
Allied Vehicles is now preparing to serve legal papers on the city council over its failure to licence the E7, and other vehicles like it.
Allied’s legal advisers, Bindmans, believe the council’s actions breach its duties under the Equality Act.
Traditional black cabs are not big enough to allow many larger electric wheelchairs to be secured inside the vehicle, with many wheelchair-users forced to travel sideways.
In 2009, a court case established that it was unlawful for a local authority not to take proper account of this safety factor when deciding whether to license larger black cabs, after disabled campaigners took Liverpool City Council to court.
Although there are some accessible private hire minicabs working in Coventry, only licensed black cabs are allowed to use the city’s taxi ranks or to be hailed from the side of the road.
Sue Line, acting chair of Coventry Wheelchair User Group, said it was “very frustrating” that there were still no black cabs that were accessible to disabled people with larger wheelchairs, despite the council spending more than five years considering the proposal.
She said: “It is up to the licensing authority to make sure that a variety of choice is available.
“I can’t understand why they are not licensing other vehicles. They haven’t taken on board the variety of wheelchairs that are about.
“The issue is about choice and availability: the ability to hail a cab if you want to.”
Line said she would also like to see a mobile phone application or other source of information so that disabled people had the contact details of private hire and taxi companies in and around the city, and would know which ones were accessible to them.
Last year, consultants produced a report for the council which concluded that the TX taxis prevented larger wheelchairs being secured properly, and that licensing bigger vehicles could improve access for wheelchair-users.
The local authority had been due to discuss the issue last month, but again postponed a decision, and now faces court action.
Simon Guilliatt, market development manager for Allied Vehicles, said: “If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. We will go to court.”
He added: “The [taxi-drivers] want to buy [the E7], the wheelchair passengers are happy in them because they have more room and they can travel in the correct manner, but it’s just the council not allowing it.”
Cllr Rachel Lancaster, cabinet member for public services, claimed the council had received “further legal representation which we need to take time to consider”.
She said: “I know people will be frustrated by the delay but in order to achieve the best outcome for everyone we need to make sure that we have evaluated things fully before a decision is made.”
The council declined to comment further.
13 February 2014