Mandatory disability awareness training for all taxi and minicab drivers, a 25 per cent wheelchair accessibility target across the private hire fleet by 2018 and a zero-tolerance approach towards drivers who refuse to carry disabled passengers, are among a new raft of measures recommended by the London Assembly last month.
In their damning six-month investigation into Transport for London’s (TfL) regulatory practices within the private hire industry, the Future Proof report undertaken by the London Assembly’s Transport Committee, found that TfL were failing to uphold key regulations and weren’t doing enough to clamp down on unscrupulous industry behaviour such as touting.
The independently-commissioned report surveyed over 1,000 passengers in addition to organisations, drivers and members of the public. It highlighted a number of concerns including a lack of accessible vehicles, broken accessibility equipment, safety issues around licensed vehicles, lack of communication between TfL and drivers, lack of disability equality training and a lack of enforcement around touting.
A London-wide issue
Transport for All are all too aware of the extent of the problem, particularly when it comes to cab drivers refusing to take disabled passengers. Last November, two disabled passengers embarked on an undercover investigation for BBC London to test the extent of discrimination. They found that five out of 20 cab firms either refused to take a guide dog or wanted to charge a higher fare.
There is also an issue with wheelchair-accessible vehicles in outer London boroughs. Whilst all black taxis are now fully-accessible, disabled passengers travelling in other boroughs continue to experience problems due to the lack of accessibility within other private hire vehicles.
Alan Benson, TfA activist said: “The scarcity of accessible private hire vehicles in the part of London where I live means having to book days ahead. A spontaneous trip out is often completely impossible, even in an emergency.”
He added: “Some drivers are often unsure how to interact with disabled passengers, so they usually direct questions to the person I’m with and ignore me completely. One driver even refused to take me in his vehicle because he claimed that my electric wheelchair represented an electrocution risk to him! It’s the kind of thing that is so easy to avoid with a bit of training.”
As TfL are responsible for enforcing and regulating the taxi and private hire trades, it is essential that they toughen up on discriminatory and out-dated attitudes and fully implement the 19 recommendations set out in the London Assembly’s report in order for disabled people across London to travel independently and without problems.
Transport for All welcome the report’s zero-tolerance approach which would revoke licenses for any driver refusing to carry disabled passengers. In addition, incentivising the provision of wheelchair-accessible private hire vehicles by reducing vehicle licensing fees for example, would help reach the London Assembly’s self-imposed target of reaching 25 per cent wheelchair accessibility by 2018. And, by May 2015, TfL have been warned to introduce mandatory disability awareness training for all taxi and private hire drivers as part of the licensing process.
If implemented in full, these measures will go a long way in reducing discrimination and allowing disabled Londoners to travel with the same freedom and intent as everyone else.