A CARLISLE taxi driver has had his licence suspended for six weeks after admitting that he failed to securely fasten a wheelchair passenger.
Mario Gomes, of Merith Avenue in Botcherby, Carlisle, appeared before the city council’s regulatory committee following a complaint made by one of his passengers, Carol Topliss.
But despite councillors opting to suspend Mr Gomes’s licence, both Mrs Topless and her husband Victor, 67 – who was in the wheelchair at the time – said they felt that the suspension is not adequate.
Mrs Topliss contacted Carlisle City Council on March 2 to say that her husband had not been properly secured in the back of Mr Gomes’s vehicle during a journey from the Citadel railway station to their home in Sheehan Crescent, Raffles, at around 9pm on March 1.
In a report given to members of the panel, licensing officer Nicola Edwards said that Mr Topliss’s wheelchair was put into the taxi sideways behind the driver’s seat, rather than facing towards the rear window and was clipped to the floor.
In her complaint, Mrs Topliss, 57, said that the wheelchair was not secured during the journey and that at times it was moving around in the taxi. She said at one point she had to put her feet up to stop it.
She also said that she phoned Carlisle Taxi Hire, whose number was on the side of Mr Gomes’s vehicle, to try and find out who he was before making a complaint to the council.
She also contacted their regular taxi driver, who explained that a wheelchair should be stored facing backwards.
The panel was told that after the complaint was made, Mr Gomes was called to Carlisle Civic Centre to speak with officers, where he denied that he had taken a passenger to Sheehan Crescent, Raffles – something which he later admitted.
He was also to demonstrate how he would put a wheelchair passenger into the taxi, suggesting that he would put them in sideways.
Members of the panel were told that Mr Gomes had completed a disability awareness course in May 2015, when he was granted his licence.
Asked why he put Mr Topliss’s wheelchair in sideways, he said: “Some passengers that I’ve taken before prefer to do it this way, rather than go in backwards because they’re not comfortable.”
John Bell, councillor for Morton and chairman of the panel, said: “On this occasion did the passenger ask to be put in the taxi sideways?” to which Mr Gomes replied: “No”.
Jacqueline Franklin, councillor for Belle Vue and vice-chairman of the panel, asked Mr Gomes: “If you know that a passenger should be facing backwards, why did you put yourself at risk and the passenger at risk?”
He said: “I have not had much experience. I haven’t done it again since.”
Mr Bell told Mr Gomes that his Hackney Carriage licence would be suspended for six weeks and that he would have to re-sit – and pass – the disability awareness course.
However, speaking to the News & Star after the meeting, Mr and Mrs Topliss said that they did not think a six-week suspension was enough.
“My husband suffers from a serious spinal injury and so any jolt or movement could have left him paralysed, or even killed him,” Mrs Topliss said.
“We didn’t think it was our place to ask the driver to move him, because he’s supposed to know what he’s doing. We don’t think that six weeks is enough, really.
“What was annoying is that he told the council more than once that he hadn’t taken a customer to Sheehan Crescent. He was trying to get out of it.”
Mr Topliss said: “The wheelchair kept moving around, it didn’t really feel safe at all.”