Ex Dundee taxi chief who once said all cabs should be wheelchair-friendly loses fight for non-accessible car

The Dundee Evening Telegraph reports that a Dundee taxi driver who once called for all city cabs to be wheelchair-friendly has had his own appeal to drive a non-accessible car dismissed by a court.

City cabbie Erik Thoresen, from Lochee, had asked to stop using a wheelchair-accessible vehicle in May 2016 – but his application was rejected by Dundee City Council.

In his appeal, heard at Dundee Sheriff Court, Mr Thoresen claimed that the authority’s “mixed use” taxi policy – which maintains a 60/40 split between wheelchair-accessible vehicles and saloons across the city – was unfair.

However, Sheriff George Way has ruled that the council’s licensing committee had laid out its reasons for rejecting his application in a “straightforward manner”.

It marks a dramatic shift in stance for Mr Thoresen, who had previously called for all taxis in Dundee to be wheelchair-accessible when he was chairman of the Dundee Hackney Association.

When he applied for his licence in 2004, he accepted the council’s requirement that he have a car that was wheelchair-accessible.

However, in submissions to Sheriff Way, Mr Thoresen said he wished to stop driving a wheelchair-accessible vehicle because of the higher costs associated with them compared to normal saloons.

Dundee City Council had previously committed to the introduction of an “economic fairness mechanism” in order to balance costs between saloon drivers and wheelchair-accessible drivers.

He claimed the council had not operated this policy fairly.

However, the local authority contended that it had considered Mr Thoresen’s application on its merits, which it said were “self-evidently poor”.

Sheriff Way concluded that the licensing committee did not act in an “unreasonable manner” in refusing the cabbie’s request.

He said: “I can find no evidence, that persuades me, that the committee did not act in a rational and fair way towards the applicant.

“The bar that the pursuer must overcome is a high one… I simply cannot hold that the high bar has been crossed.”

Mr Thoresen was represented by the GMB union, which will now be held liable for Dundee City Council’s legal fees for the case.

A GMB spokesman said: “In light of the decision the judgment is currently being reviewed by our legal team, following which our next steps will be considered.

“All fees for legal representation are met centrally by the GMB itself.”


Taxis: Disability Department for Transport written question

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, whether proposed statutory guidance on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing will include a requirement for all drivers to undertake disability equality training.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The draft Accessibility Action Plan is currently being consulted upon, the Department will review and consult on best practice guidance for taxi and PHV licensing authorities, which will include strengthened recommendations on supporting accessible services.

The statutory guidance issued under section 177 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 will not include a requirement for all taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) drivers to undertake disability equality training as this is beyond the scope of the legislation which is to “protect children, and vulnerable individuals who are 18 or over, from harm.”

Cambridge City Council is ignoring government advice on wheelchair-accessible taxis

Cambridge City Council is leaving wheelchair users taking taxis open to higher charges, no assistance getting on and off and even being refused a trip, it is claimed.

The authority does not have a list of accessible taxis under section 167 of the Equality Act 2010, despite it being strongly recommended by the government in preventing discrimination against disabled people.

The Department for Transport’s statutory guidance states that: “Whilst local authorities are under no specific legal obligation to maintain a list under section 167, the Government recommends strongly that they do so.

“Without such a list the requirements of section 165 of the Act do not apply, and drivers may continue to refuse the carriage of wheelchair users, fail to provide them with assistance, or to charge them extra.”

Doug Paulley, who discovered in a freedom of information request to Cambridge City Council that they did not keep a list, says the lack of one is “utterly astonishing”.

He said: “Cambridge City Council put in their newsletter to all their taxi drivers that drivers would be subject to the new anti-discrimination law preventing them from refusing wheelchair users, charging wheelchair users extra and the like.”

Despite not following government advice, the council says it has it own in-house measures to prevent discrimination.

Councillor Gerri Bird, chair of licensing at the city council, who is also the disability lead and a wheelchair user, said: “Wheelchair users should never face an additional charge for calling a taxi.

“I am sorry that our response to Mr Paulley’s Freedom of Information request, whilst it correctly dealt with the questions asked regarding the Equality Act, did not also explain why the City Council does not currently keep a list of wheelchair accessible vehicles under the legislation.

“In fact our own Hackney Carriage and Licensing Hire Policy already requires that no additional charge can be made and that all new hackney carriages must be wheelchair accessible.

“Currently around two-thirds of the taxi fleet is wheelchair accessible. Provisions on our policy also allow for enforcement action to be taken if a driver refuses to transport a wheelchair user, fails to provide them with appropriate assistance or charges them more than a non-wheelchair user.”

Councillor Bird said the city council has taken the view that their own strong policies provided sufficient safeguards, but she said they would be reviewing the Accessibility Policy later this year.

She continued: “As part of that we will be considering not only if we should further strengthen the safeguards for wheelchair users by including a list of designated wheelchair accessible taxis, but also how to meet the needs of those with other mobility impairments, for whom lower, saloon type vehicles may be preferable.

“In the meantime, I’d like to assure Mr Paulley and any wheelchair user that we will be ensuring all taxi drivers are fully aware of their responsibilities under our policy in the July newsletter and that they can travel with confidence in taxis in Cambridge.”

source: http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/cambridge-city-council-taxi-licensing-13206504

Bristol: Taxi drivers filmed turning away disabled passengers

Taxi drivers in Bristol are breaking the law by turning away some disabled passengers, an ITV investigation has found.

The City Council says it will launch an inquiry after we filmed hackney drivers telling a woman in a wheelchair they couldn’t give her a lift.

Kate Sweetman, who uses an electric wheelchair because she has multiple sclerosis, missed a concert after travelling from her home in Chippenham to Bristol because no hackney cab could take her to the venue.

ITV West Country filmed with her in Bristol city centre as four out of five drivers she approached said they were unable to help:

Reasons they gave included the size of her chair or weight restrictions on their vehicles. One didn’t have suitable ramps to get Kate into the back of the vehicle. Kate says her chair is no wider than a manually operated one.

“It makes you feel like a second-class citizen,” she said. “It smacks your disability in your face. Everywhere should be suitable for anybody to use. Your human right should be for you to use anything the same as anybody else.”

The chair of the Public Safety and Protection Committee, Cllr Sultan Khan Chair, told us drivers were committing a criminal offence by not taking Kate.

“They shouldn’t be doing that,” he added. “We can suspend their licence, we can revoke it if necessary. The bottom line is the hackney vehicles are wheelchair accessible and nothing can prevent them from taking passengers, whatever their disability.”

He said the local authority would be investigating the findings and reviewing its policies. It also intends to carry out undercover spot-checks.
The City Council issues just under 1,000 hackney cab licences in Bristol.

The Bristol Disability Equality Forum told us Kate’s experience was ‘depressingly common’.

source: http://www.itv.com/

Union plans legal action over council wheelchair taxi dispute

A taxi drivers’ union is planning to take legal action against Dundee City Council in a row over wheelchair accessible vehicles.

GMB Scotland has made the decision amid a three-year dispute with the council.

The current system — which the GMB describes as a “two-tier workforce” — requires some drivers to buy wheelchair accessible vehicles, which start at £19,000, whereas other drivers are allowed to buy a vehicle from as little as £1,000.

GMB officer Drew Duffy said: “Dundee City Council seem to be happy with this two-tier system — all we want is a level playing for all taxi drivers.

“We have drivers who were operational prior to changes in 2003, who could purchase any vehicle. Then after Dundee City Council changed their policy on new taxi operators, drivers had to purchase wheelchair accessible vehicles.

“The problem is some of these drivers, prior to the changes in 2003, have now retired but their badges are still active.

“Their vehicles are operating in the city driven by other drivers, so they don’t have to adhere to the changes in the law. I believe this represents around 40% of the taxi drivers in Dundee.”

Licensing committee chairman Stewart Hunter said he understood the frustrations of the taxi drivers but insisted the committee has to decide what is best for the public.

He said: “We have a policy at the moment where the fleet is mixed. I understand their frustrations because it is costing some drivers more than others to buy vehicles.

“But our focus, first and foremost, is what is best for the Dundee public and they want a mixed fleet. We had a consultation around four years ago with disability groups, which the taxi liaison group were present at. We tested out a series of different vehicles and it was apparent that not all passengers were able to access a disabled vehicle which is why we decided to operate a mixed fleet.”

But Drew said: “I would argue that Edinburgh and Glasgow already operate a service where all taxis are wheelchair accessible so I can’t understand why we can’t. We have a date set in November for the case but I hope we can reach a decision prior to this. All we ask is the council to review the system currently in place.”

source: https://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/

Commons Questions

Taxis: Disability

Department for Transport written question – answered on 15th September 2016.

Rob Marris Shadow Minister (Treasury)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what steps he is taking to increase the number of accessible taxis.

Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Government is committed to giving disabled people the same access to transport services as other members of society. It also recognises the particularly significant role played by taxis and private hire vehicle (PHV) operators for many disabled people, in helping them to remain active and independent.

It is for local authorities to specify a number of accessible vehicles to be within their licensed taxi and private hire vehicle fleet, and to take account of their public sector equality duties when doing so.

Leeds taxi and private hire firms ‘treat disabled people as second-class citizens’

Disabled people in Leeds are being treated like “second-class citizens” by taxi and private hire firms, a campaigner has claimed.

Nathan Popple, who has severe disabilities due to cerebral palsy, claims to have been quoted £108 for a one-way trip in a wheelchair accessible car for a 5.6 mile journey from his Adel home to Armley. .

The 18-year-old is behind the Accessible Leeds website, which rates services in the city on how they cater for disabled people.

The quote came after his wheelchair accessible car became unusable after an accident. He claims to have been rejected travel by private hire drivers in Leeds, while drivers of Hackney carriages, or black cabs, often fail to stop for him or refuse to help him in or out of their vehicles.

In a letter of complaint sent to operators, MPs and Leeds City Council leaders, he said major firms in the city “treat disabled people as second-class citizens”.

He continued: “Complaints about these companies need to be taken seriously and real action needs to be taken against them. “At the minute Leeds feels like a no-go area for disabled people.”

Mr Popple said that despite many private hire firms advertising that their vehicles are wheelchair accessible, prices are “awful” for disabled people.

He claims other private hire firms offered the Adel to Armley return trip for £60 or £30 but offered either limited times or refused advanced bookings.

“There are endless stories of taxis not showing up, driving away or refusing to stop for disabled people, refusing to state a collection time or simply overcharging,” he said.

“Disabled people have a massive amount to give to our communities and to our city. I am not asking for special treatment, I am asking for fairness.”

A spokeswoman for Leeds City Council said: “We are always very concerned to hear about taxi and private hire drivers in Leeds who do not treat all passengers equally and will be investigating Mr Popple’s complaints.

She explained that all new taxi or private hire licence applicants receive customer care training that emphasises fair treatment for all, although the council has no control over charges levied.

The council can revoke private hire licences if complaints are received and proven. Hackney carriage drivers must also abide by the Equality Act 2010 or face possible prosecution.

Neither the Leeds Private Hire Drivers Association nor Unite the Union’s Leeds Hackney carriage branch were available to comment when contacted by Yorkshire Post Newspapers.

Read more at: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk


Union calls for taxi fare equality after disabled Leeds man quoted price ‘10-times higher than usual’

A taxi and private hire drivers’ group has condemned claims that a disabled Leeds man was quoted 10-times more than usual for a 5.6 mile trip.

Javaid Akhtar, branch secretary for the Yorkshire Professional Drivers’ Association at the GMB union, said he was “gobsmacked” by prices put to 18-year-old disability campaigner Nathan Popple.

Mr Popple, who has severe disabilities due to cerebral palsy, claims to have been quoted £108 for a one-way journey in a wheelchair accessible car from his Adel home to Armley.

He was quoted £60 for the same journey as a return trip by another firm and £30 by another, although those companies offered either limited times or refused advanced bookings.

In a complaint to operators, MPs and Leeds City Council, the Accessible Leeds founder also highlighted instances of drivers refusing to stop for disabled people, not stating collection times or overcharging.Mr Akhtar believes that drivers and companies “should know better” than to discriminate and called for equality.

Javaid Akhtar is branch secretary of the Yorkshire Professional Drivers’ Association at the GMB union. “£108 is absolutely silly. For 5.6 miles it should be £8 or £9 – if an able bodied person is paying that why should we treat disabled people any different?

We should treat them on an equal basis,” he said. “Something needs to be done to educate the licence holders and try to bring it to their attention.“

We should respect all human kind and treat people with dignity and respect.”

Mohammed Shabir, from Unite’s Leeds taxi section, said Hackney carriage drivers all undergo equality training and help people in wheelchairs.

He said: “We are not all like that [not stopping for disabled people] – if we were we wouldn’t be granted our licences.”

Leeds City Council can revoke private hire licences if complaints are proven.

Hackney carriage drivers must also abide by the Equality Act 2010 or face possible prosecution.A council spokeswoman said it was “concerned” by the allegations and plans to investigate them fully. The council has no control over private hire fares.

Read more at: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/

Taxi driver fined for picking up disabled passenger in Carlisle city centre

A furious taxi driver has vowed to appeal against a parking ticket he was issued while picking up a disabled passenger.

A traffic warden issued Jimmy Shankland a £70 parking ticket as he waited for Jack and Jean Hood outside the post office on Scotch Street, Carlisle city centre, just before 11am on Friday.

Although Mr Shankland, 61, told the warden he was waiting for a disabled customer, his appeals made no difference.

“I have never been so angry and I could feel my heart pumping with anger,” said Mr Shankland, “I have never felt anything like it.”

Mr Hood, 88, is the sole carer for his 85-year-old wife, who is blind and has been in a wheelchair for two and a half years because she has difficulty walking.

The couple, who have been married for 63 years, were so upset by the incident they gave Mr Shankland £20 towards the fine.

Mr Hood said: “I thought it was very, very unfair for him. You couldn’t be there long because we came right down. He was just getting the door open.”

Once or twice a week, the couple, who live at Newlaithes Avenue, Morton, Carlisle, get dropped off at Marks & Spencer and picked up outside the post office by taxis so that they can do their shopping.

“I have never had any bother there before and we go there often,” said Mr Hood.

Mr Shankland has driven taxis in Carlisle for 16 years but said he has never known anything like it. He said you might expect such things to happen in London but not in Carlisle.

He said: “In my mind, in my estimation, [the warden] was discriminating against that disabled person.”

Mr Shankland argued that taxi drivers can wait for disabled passengers on double yellow lines and have a duty to their disabled customer to ensure they do not discriminate against them.

He said: “If I hadn’t picked the customer up, I would have been in breach of my licensing badge, then I’d have been discriminating against a wheelchair user. I would have been suspended with no pay.”

Wayne Casey, the chairman of the Carlisle Taxi Drivers’ Association, supported Mr Shankland.

He said: “I think the driver is entitled to wait as long as it takes to get a customer in and out of a vehicle. There’s a bit of a difference between parking and waiting.”

By law, taxi drivers cannot refuse to give disabled people in wheelchairs a lift or charge them extra.

Mr Shankland said he would be appealing against his ticket to Cumbria County Council.

He was issued a parking ticket last month when he nipped into the bakers for a roll but he paid the fine as he admitted it was his fault for parking on double lines.

A spokesman for the county council said: “The council carries out on-street parking enforcement in order to ensure the smooth flow of traffic and prevent inconsiderate parking.

“In this particular case, if Mr Shankland wishes to challenge the ticket, he can do so through the council’s normal appeals process.

“The council investigates every challenge on its own merits and mitigating circumstances will be taken into account. In instances where the council decides there is no case for a ticket to be cancelled, drivers still have the opportunity to make a further appeal to the independent adjudicator at the Traffic Penalty Tribunal.”

source: http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/

Commons Questions – Law Commission / Fit & Proper / Equality Act

Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, pursuant to the Answer of 12 February 2016 to Question 25870, how many (a) officials and (b) other staff are working on the Government’s response to the Law Commission’s recommendations on taxi and private hire vehicle legislation.


Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

There are currently (a) three officials and (b) no other staff in the Department for Transport working on taxi and private hire vehicle policy. One of those officials works full-time on taxi and private hire vehicles, and it forms a core part of the work load of the other two. Their responsibilities include scrutiny of the Law Commission recommendations for reform of taxi and private hire vehicle legislation. This level of staffing for work on taxis and private hire vehicles remains essentially consistent with that going back to 2009/10. The Government will respond to the Law Commission report once scrutiny is complete.


Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, with reference to the oral contribution of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport of 4 May 2016, Official Report, column 286, stating that the Government intends to commence sections 165 and 167 of the Equality Act 2010 in 2016, if he will also impose a statutory requirement on the driver of a private hire vehicle to accept and assist a wheelchair user and not to charge extra for providing such assistance.


Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Government intends to commence sections 165 and 167 of the Equality Act 2010 this year, and impose this requirement upon both Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle drivers.


Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will bring forward legislative proposals to define the term, fit and proper, for the licensing of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers.


Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Department for Transport currently provides Best Practice Guidance to assist with the fit and proper person test, which is the responsibility of local authorities.

Aberdeen cabbies must make all vehicles ‘wheelchair accessible’

Taxi drivers in Aberdeen could soon be forced to make their vehicles wheelchair-accessible, despite objections from union bosses.

There has been growing opposition to the city council’s current plans, which will mean all hackney drivers have to adhere to the new regulations by next year.

Unite has claimed there is already sufficient provision in the Granite City, with more than 500 vehicles equipped for wheelchair users.

Last month, the city council’s licensing committee agreed to consider holding a public consultation into the plans after seeking legal advice.

But now, licensing officers have called on the committee to press ahead with the scheme, which is due to come into force next June.

Their decision formed part of a report, which will be discussed by the committee tomorrow.

Last night, the union’s north-east representative made a fresh appeal to the authority to hold a consultation.

Tommy Campbell, regional officer, will speak at the meeting.

He said: “All we are asking for the council to do is to consult with everybody to make sure they are going along the right road, because what we are hearing from people is that they don’t want this.

“We have information coming back from our disabled customers that they want a mixed fleet.

“If they hold a review and the feedback is that people are in favour of a 100% fleet, then that is fair enough, but all we want is for the consultation to take place before a decision is made.”

Mr Campbell previously claimed the union carried out its own survey of hundreds of passengers who were broadly against the plans.

It has also been argued that some disabled passengers prefer travelling in a saloon car.

However, the committee report raised concerns that a mixed fleet could lead to a “two-tier” system which would be unlawful.

The report added: “The concern is that such an arrangement would create perceived unfairness and resentment between those drivers who have to purchase an accessible vehicle and those who can operate a saloon.”

The authority’s position is also supported by the Wheelchair Action Group, made up of taxi drivers in favour of a 100% wheelchair accessible policy.

source: https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/