Local councils across England and Wales should be given new powers to ban taxi-drivers from ignoring disabled people who try to hail their cabs, according to a new report from the government’s advisers on law reform.
The Law Commission also said that both taxi and minicab (private hire) drivers should have to take disability equality training.
The recommendations came in the commission’s report on reforming the law on taxis and private hire vehicles, which it concludes is “old, inconsistent” and has “failed to keep pace” with the increasing use of mobile phones and the internet to book taxis and minicabs.
The commission wants to see new national standards on accessibility, with local councils having the power to set even higher standards for taxi services if they wish.
The report recommends that – if it signals it is available – a taxi should have a duty to stop when hailed, if safe to do so.
The report describes how – because many areas do not force drivers to have disability equality training – it can lead to “unacceptable practices”, such as carrying a disabled person in an unsafe manner, refusing to carry them at all, or charging a disabled passenger extra.
The commission heard anecdotal evidence that some drivers do not know how to operate their own wheelchair ramps, fail to use the vehicle’s wheelchair restraints, lose their temper with disabled passengers who need assistance, and refuse to carry assistance dogs on religious grounds.
The commission’s report says taxi and private hire services are “essential” for many disabled passengers, but that there is a “very variable national picture” because there are no common standards.
Although the Equality Act applies to taxis and minicabs, the report says, “disabled passengers continue to suffer severe difficulties in obtaining and using these services”.
It says that trying to enforce the law by taking action through the civil courts is “costly, complex and, without the support of a representative organisation or charity, not feasible for most individuals”.
The commission “strongly” recommends in its report that it should be a condition of drivers’ and operators’ licences that they comply with the relevant sections of the Equality Act.
The report follows a lengthy consultation process, which included meetings organised by the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), and demonstrations by local disability organisations.
The Fed Centre for Independent Living, in Brighton, was one of the disabled people’s organisations that took part in the consultation.
Geraldine Desmoulins, The Fed’s chief officer, said the commission’s report was “fantastic news”.
She said: “We whole-heartedly agree [with the need for training]and it’s something we campaigned long and hard for in Brighton and Hove, to have taxi-drivers adequately trained.”
But she said whether the new laws worked would depend on how they were enforced by local councils.
“It’s really, really helpful. The next hurdle as far as I am concerned is the licensing authority.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The Department for Transport will seek the views of DPTAC as part of our consideration of the Law Commission’s report.”
29 May 2014