TAXI drivers in Guildford are accusing decision makers of ignoring them after councillors again deferred a decision on its policy over the use of wheelchair accessible taxis. To the frustration of cabbies who had come to a meeting of the licensing committee at Guildford Borough Council on Wednesday (September 7), members decided they did not have enough information to make a policy decision to support a ‘mixed’ fleet of cars.
Sighs and other sounds of discontent could be heard from the public gallery as councillors agreed not to rush a decision, despite having been presented with report summarising a lengthy public consultation.
This latest stalling follows years of reticence by the council since it adopted a policy in 2004 that required all licensed Hackney carriages to be wholly accessible by wheelchair users by January 2010. The requirement was suspended in 2009 when it became clear that the government was considering licensing requirements in relation to taxis and that further national guidance would be issued.
The borough’s current fleet is made up of 176 vehicles, 95 of which are wheelchair accessible, but it is unclear whether the council will reinstate the policy of a wholly-accessible fleet, or settle for a percentage of the whole.
Speaking after the meeting, John Tester, a taxi driver for 26 years, said he felt licensing officers and councillors taking the decisions should work more closely with the taxi trade to get the answers they are looking for. “If they want to ask people about the wheelchair taxis, they don’t ask us and we are the ones who do the job.
“It annoys me – this chairman never met [with] a taxi driver, how do they know? “The survey was done so inappropriately – they never gave them to us to hand out. “If they asked the trade what was going on, we could tell them.”
The consultation survey was agreed upon in January this year and copies of a questionnaire was later sent to groups representative of those with disability, managers and occupiers of residential and retirement homes and handed out at the Friary and the railway station. The consultation exercise yielded around 64 responses – 50 of which said they preferred saloon-type cars to wheelchair accessible vehicles.
David Williams-Wynn, chairman of the Guildford Hackney Association, said: “The figures show in urban areas what is required is 40% wheelchair accessible taxis and 60% saloons.” However, Cllr Stephen Mansbridge said the wheelchair policy should continue to be suspended – and not ended – until further recommendations had been carried out.
“A study should be undertaken to determine what percentage of wheelchair accessible vehicles are required for the population of this borough,” he said.