In the very small hours of this morning, a group of my fellow disables* were discussing this article: http://www.welfareweekly.com/taxi-drivers-who-discriminate-against-wheelchair-users-face-fines-of-up-to-1000/ and it got me thinking. Under new legislation coming in spring, taxi drivers cannot refuse to transport people in wheelchairs or charge them more for a journey.
It reminded me of a time a few years ago when I saw a group of friends, including two in wheelchairs, arguing with a taxi driver in a car park. He was refusing to take either of the wheelchair users either in their chair or even in a regular seat when one of them offered to transfer with a friend to aid them. There was no practical reason for the driver to refuse – this was a large black cab with numerous stickers with a wheelchair symbol in the windows to indicate how accessible it was. Now, for possibly the only time in my life, I kept my mouth shut and didn’t quite hear what reason he gave for not taking his disabled passengers. Was it because he just didn’t want to spend the extra time setting up the ramps or clamping down the wheels to stop them moving? If so, he definitely spent longer arguing the case with the group. Did he not want to lose money because wheelchairs are always put backwards to the front seats, unable to see the meter, and knowing that the others would not let him get away with inflating the price? Well, that didn’t work as he was eventually sent away with no passengers and a flea in his ear. It’s just as likely that the ‘accessible’ taxi only had the stickers for show and he had no equipment, let alone the knowledge to use any of it.
On the rare occasions I have had to use taxis, I’ve often been charged over the odds and then had the driver huff and puff and back down when I point out the actual total on the meter. I’ve sent cabs away because they do not have the equipment to secure my chair. I’ve taken my life in my hands because I had appointments to keep and no other choice. Once, a private hire car expected me to fold up my own chair and put in the boot. If I could manage that then I wouldn’t need the wheelchair in the first place! Can’t drivers be punished for having these ignorant and offensive attitudes?
A £1000fine is not going to hurt most drivers as it relies on the offender being reported and proven guilty – a ‘your word against theirs’ situation. I can see this descending into a chaotic affair where the disabled person has to prove they have been discriminated against. Maybe stripping people of their taxi licence would be a better deterrent. Any better ideas lurking out there?
Anyway, might these rules not lead to alienation rather than discrimination? Imagine the scene – you phone to book a taxi, ask for a quote and for it to be wheelchair accessible only to be old that they don’t cover your area only for your able bodied friend next door books from the same company with no issues. Will the same rules apply to Uber drivers and the like who don’t have a company to answer to? Will wheelchair users end up being further discriminated against by being refused transport just in case they make a complaint? Maybe able bodied passengers will be hit in the pocket as companies inflate prices across the board to even everything out.
*Disables – collective noun for people with disabilities who can’t be bothered with the extra syllables.