The upsetting revelation was aired at a public meeting at St Albans district council, during a forum on Thameslink services.
Dominic ‘Dom’ Hyams, of Harpenden, who uses an electric wheelchair, told councillors he was often left stranded at local stations by taxis.
He told Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) representatives at last Thursday’s (2) planning scrutiny committee meeting that, generally, his experience was ‘very good’ as he calls station staff ahead of his departure, and the “friendly hardworking staff at St Albans, Harpenden and St Pancras always try and deliver a great service”.
He regularly commutes to St Pancras, which is close to his job at Assist-Mi, an assistance and customer service app.
Dom went on: “For many years I have found myself in need of using a taxi to get me home from St Albans to Harpenden when something goes wrong on the line.”
Although GTR gives him a special docket to enable taxi-drivers to recoup payment later, when there are service problems, he has found that “all taxi drivers at the rank now refuse to take the dockets from Thameslink staff, as they are not being paid within the 30 days payment terms. Frankly I don’t blame them.
“Many say they often are sent back forms if they are not precisely filled in. Thirty day payment terms can be up to 60 days or not at all. A couple of drivers will go beyond what is expected of them, and offer to still take me and my wheelchair but in recent weeks, they have both said that due to their struggle to get the money, they too would have to stop doing the docket work as it feels like they are doing it for free.”
However, he also faces difficulties when offering cash, as while most drivers have accessible taxis they “are still refusing to take wheelchair jobs” and he has been left to wait ‘indefinitely’ at St Albans City Station.
Dom said: “I believe in the main [they do so] because they can make this choice without any repercussions.”
He told GTR officials that “the docket system needs to be revised, it isn’t working.”
And he called upon St Albans district council, which has a statutory duty to license private-hire vehicles and drivers, to do more to protect those in wheelchairs.
He added that if there are no taxis willing to transport him to Harpenden, he is forced to contact “one of my parents to get me, who live over half an hour away. This is on the back of a long day at work, now delaying my journey home by hours.
“There needs to be a genuine punishment for cab drivers refusing to take wheelchair jobs. Having so many accessible taxis seems pointless, without the attitudes of the drivers changing and them realising they have a duty to take work from all individuals.
“The experience in London is completely different, with black cabs happily accepting all wheelchair jobs. They would lose their badge if they got caught doing such things.”
This follows revelations in this paper last year about a St Albans woman in her 60s complaining to the government about her shoddy treatment, when a taxi driver refused to take her to the Abbey Theatre, because she had a wheelchair.
Cllr Richard Curthoys, chair of the council’s licensing and regulatory committee asked Dom to discuss his ‘shocking’ experience further with him.
After the meeting, Michael Lovelady, head of regulatory services at council, said: “We are sorry to hear of Dominic’s experience at St Albans City Station.
“We have not previously had a complaint by him or anyone else about taxis refusing to take wheelchair users at the station. We’ve spoken to Dominic and asked that if this happens again, he should take a note of the driver’s plate number. We will then investigate.”
Mudassar Yasin, former general secretary of the now disbanded St Albans and Harpenden Taxi Association, said: “I’m disappointed that is the situation, but not surprised, as these sorts of incidents are happening on a daily basis.
“Some of the excuses drivers come out with are ridiculous.”
He suggested customers complain to the council, to prompt action from the authority.
Mudassar, who is director of Arena Taxis, said that his drivers were kept busy providing transport to residents in wheelchairs, particularly from Grove House, Grace Muriel House and other local nursing homes.