9:31am Thursday 3rd May 2012
By David Knights
Taxi drivers who are charging up to double the normal fare for wheelchair users have been warned they face prosecution.
Private hire companies are being told by Bradford Council they have six months to comply with equality regulations and stop charging the higher rates.
It follows a campaign by a Keighley disability group People First, which claims many local private hire companies are charging up to double for the larger vehicles that can carry wheelchairs.
Companies charge more for the adapted vehicles because they can carry up to seven people instead of the four carried by normal taxis.
People First, which is run by people with learning disabilities, said this amounted to discrimination against the physically disabled.
Members of the group met with Bradford Council taxi officers and representatives of private hire firms.
People First co-ordinator Hanna Bennet said members were delighted the council had told taxi firms they must charge the same amount for both kinds of vehicle.
She said the companies were being given six months to comply or face prosecution.
She said: “The council was really supportive. Companies can charge what they like, but they can’t discriminate against disabled people.”
The new rules apply to private hire vehicles which passengers book either over the phone or by walking into the taxi office.
Hackney carriages, which queue in taxi ranks, have meters which already charge everybody the same fare.
The re-pricing is the first success for People First Keighley and Craven’s campaign group, which was formed last September.
Wheelchair-user Tom Walsh acted as a “mystery shopper”, phoning several Keighley firms one day to ask simply for a taxi, then the following day to ask for a taxi for a wheelchair- user. He said each firm quoted vastly different prices, with several charging double for the use of an adapted vehicle, adding more than £20 to the price of trips between Keighley and Bradford.
Tom said: “There’s a feeling that taking taxis is a luxury, but for some disabled people it’s a necessity. I have to take a lot of trips in a taxi.
“Some disabled people have more taxi trips than others because of health appointments. It’s not just about going to the bingo.”
Stuart Hastings, boss of Metro Keighley Taxis, in Church Street, said although companies were given six months to make the price change, he asked his drivers to comply immediately.
He said the company recently paid £25,000 for two adapted taxis, which he said were specialist vehicles that cost more to run.
Mr Hastings said a journey normally taking 10 minutes would take half an hour due to the extra time needed to get a wheelchair in and out of the vehicle, including helping the user and putting down a ramp.
He said this would mean taxi drivers losing money. He added: “A large firm like ours will subsidise the money or stand the loss, but a one-man band won't be able to take the job."
Mr Hastings pointed out that some disabled people received extra benefits through the mobility allowance specifically to pay for the higher costs of getting around, including taxis.
Carol Stos, Bradford Council’s fleet and licensing manager, said the council could regulate the charges made by hackney carriages (public hire vehicles) but private hire companies were able to set their own charges.
She said: "Regardless of this, all operators must comply with equality legislation.
“We have recently held a meeting with representatives of the private hire and hackney carriage operators to discuss equality and disabled passengers.
"The meeting was very positive and we are confident that progress will be made on any arising issues.”
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