Councils’ response to taxi discrimination laws has been ‘inadequate’, says activist

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Only about a third of local authorities have taken action to protect wheelchair-users from discrimination by drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles, more than eight months after the government gave them new powers to do so.

The figures, compiled by transport access campaigner Doug Paulley, also show that nearly half of local authorities across England, Wales and Scotland have no firm plans in place to apply the new laws.

On 6 April, the government finally brought into force legislation that imposes fines of up to £1,000 on drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles who refuse to accept wheelchair-users, try to charge them extra, or fail to provide them with appropriate assistance.

But the new laws only apply in those areas of England, Scotland and Wales where the local authority has drawn up a list – under section 167 of the Equality Act – of all the wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles in their area.

The government had already been encouraging councils to start drawing up such lists for seven years before the law was brought into force.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has also said that it should take no more than six months from April this year to bring in the new measures.

But responses to freedom of information requests to local authorities from Paulley (pictured) have painted a bleak picture of progress since the law was finally implemented, he says.

He already has information from more than 300 of the 347 local authorities that could use the new powers – if they choose to do so – and just 37 per cent have created a section 167 list; while another 15 per cent intend to do so by the end of March 2018.

A further 21 per cent say they intend to create a list but have no timescale for when they will do so; 15 per cent have not made a decision on whether they will do so yet; and 12 per cent – nearly one in eight – have no current intention to draw one up.

That is a slight improvement on the figures from his previous research, at the time the laws were introduced, when 18 per cent were undecided on whether to produce a list and 26 per cent had no plans to set one up.

But Paulley, a wheelchair-user himself, said progress since April had been “inadequate”, despite some improvement in understanding by councils of the law and why the lists are required.

He said the freedom of information responses showed “a complete disregard for disabled people’s rights and an incredible administrative inertia amongst authorities”.

He also said that he feared they showed the new laws were “clunkily constructed and unusable” because – from the responses he has received so far – not a single driver has been prosecuted since they were introduced, even though discrimination is widespread.

And he said the new figures were particularly worrying because of the stagnation in the numbers of wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles in England and Wales, which fell from 50,065 in 2013 to 49,421 in 2015 and then rose slightly to 49,516 in 2017.

He said there was also a postcode lottery in availability, with many areas having few if any wheelchair-accessible taxis or private hire vehicles.

Disability News Service (DNS) has contacted three of the local authorities that told Paulley they have no plans to create a section 167 list: Nottingham City Council (NCC); Rushcliffe Borough Council, in Nottinghamshire; and Liverpool City Council.

Nottingham’s refusal is particularly controversial because the council originally told Paulley earlier this year that it would not be creating a list, but when subsequently contacted by BBC’s The One Show, insisted that it would be doing so.

Now its latest response says once again that it “does not currently have any documented plans to produce such a list”.

An NCC spokeswoman said the council instead publishes a list of companies that provide wheelchair accessible taxis, because a list of wheelchair-accessible vehicles would “become out of date very quickly”.

But it has failed to explain why it appears to have lied to The One Show, or why it does not want to protect wheelchair-users from discrimination.

A Liverpool City Council spokesman said there was a local bylaw that allowed it to act against drivers who discriminate against wheelchair-users.

It took the council more than five days to provide a copy of the bylaw, and when it was eventually emailed to DNS it showed that the rules only cover equipment and physical access to the vehicle, and say nothing about driver behaviour and discrimination against disabled passengers.

By noon today (Thursday), Rushcliffe had not been able to explain why it has refused to create a section 167 list.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “Disabled people must have the same opportunities to travel and access to transport as everyone else.

“In April we implemented legislation to ensure wheelchair users travelling by taxi or private hire vehicle receive the assistance they require.

“We strongly encourage councils that have not already done so to use these powers.”

She said the department was “encouraged” by the response from those local authorities that had already created section 167 lists but “would like to see more authorities making the most of these powers”.