Delighted campaigners have welcomed proposed new laws that will force many local authorities to allow more wheelchair-accessible taxis onto the streets.
The new amendment to the government’s equality bill was proposed by the disabled peer Baroness Wilkins and backed by a string of fellow peers – and accepted by the government – during the bill’s committee stage.
The amendment will mean that local authorities that have policies to control taxi numbers will not be able to refuse a licence for a wheelchair-accessible taxi if there are not enough accessible taxis in the area.
Baroness Wilkins, a wheelchair-user herself, said provision of accessible transport was “essential for equality of opportunity” but councils with “quantity-control policies” and relatively few or no accessible taxis can refuse licence applications for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
She said this can leave wheelchair-users who travel to such areas by train “stranded” once they arrive.
She added: “One must also think what it means for those living in the area when they need to get to an urgent appointment or visit friends and have a social life.”
For the government, Baroness Thornton said: “It is unacceptable that a licensing authority which controls taxi numbers can routinely refuse applications for wheelchair-accessible taxis when it has very few wheelchair-accessible taxis in the district or, indeed, none at all.
“This new clause provides an ideal means of enhancing accessible taxi provision in these areas.”
She said the government would consult before deciding on the minimum proportion of taxis in a local authority area that should be wheelchair-accessible.
Geraldine Des Moulins, chief officer of Brighton and Hove Federation of Disabled People, welcomed the amendment and said it should make it easier for wheelchair-users to find taxis.
She said researchers had found that a wheelchair-user in Brighton waits four times as long as a non-disabled person for a taxi.
Her organisation persuaded Brighton and Hove City Council to announce a review of taxi services for disabled people last month.
Des Moulins said: “We have disabled people who will not go out because they do not know if they will get a taxi to get home again.”
She said the new laws would help, but there also needed to be a “culture shift within the taxi trade”, with drivers often refusing to pick up wheelchair-users.
The equality bill has now completed its committee stage in the Lords, with the report stage due to begin on 2 March.
11 February 2010