Wheels on Wheels: Wheelchairs, Taxis, Right and Wrong
Taxis have always been ripe for abuse and rip-off, because most people, when ordering a taxi or flagging one down in the street, have little recourse. When it’s late at night and the taxi is right there, warm and inviting and ready to take you home, many people won’t argue if they’re gouged slightly on the fare, although they will resent it. The fact is, for short periods of time in everyone’s lives, taxi drivers have an undue power over us.
For people with disabilities that require them to use wheelchairs, this situation is even worse, as it’s become a common complaint that taxis will either refuse to take a fare in a wheelchair, or will charge exorbitant extra fees.
The examples are easy to find: Susan Roelofs, of St George's Street in West Hull was told that she would be charged an additional £10 for handling her wheelchair – before she even got into the car, and on top of the fare itself which would have been just £7. The extra charge was not announced until she was about to get into the car, and refusing the charge cost her time.
Recently, Boro Taxi of Teesside announced they would be refusing disabled passengers altogether because of the extra trouble. Although he recently reversed the decision after a public outcry, Mohammed Bashir, owner of Boro Taxi, originally announced the decision because wheelchair passengers required a minibus to accommodate, but paid the normal taxi fare, making carrying disabled passengers “uneconomic.”
While taxi drivers and owners argue that the extra work and space requirements of the wheelchair user costs them in terms of effort and time, which equates to money, the extra fees or refusal to take passengers due to a disability are both violations of the Disability Discrimination Act, specifically the section which states the duties of “drivers of ‛taxibuses’ to provide assistance to people in wheelchairs, to carry them in safety and not to charge extra for doing so. Failure to abide by these duties could lead to prosecution through a Magistrates’ court and a maximum fine of £1,000.”
While for many the practice is a clear case of discrimination, the argument that dispatching a minibus to carry a single passenger for a local fare results in no profit and possibly even a financial loss for the company, the fact is it is the responsibility of each taxi company to be able to accommodate all potential passengers they are legally required to carry. Claiming ignorance or lack of proper vehicles is no excuse when they are well aware of their duty.
In the end, every citizen has the right to the same level of service regardless of conditions or any equipment they require to move about, and it is the moral and legal responsibility of taxi drivers and owners to be prepared to carry them to their destinations without extra fees – the taxi owners are well aware of the law and the possibility of being called by people in wheelchairs, and cannot claim surprise or lack of preparation at this point in time. People requiring a wheelchair to move about have enough challenges moving through a world and society often dismissive of their problems – the last thing they need is one more obstacle.