A golden opportunity to rethink and redesign door-to-door services in London is being squandered in the consultation questionnaire sent to Taxicard members last week.
The contracts for Dial-a-Ride and Taxicard services are up for renewal and London Councils and TfL are considering a joint contract. Instead of a broad ranging consultation that could explore the development of the services and the advantages in a merger of Taxicard and Dial-a-Ride, this consultation offers only one option – the merger of Taxicard and Dial-a-Ride ‘Taxi services’.
Dial-a-Ride ‘Taxi Services’ are where the Dial-a-Ride call centre sends a taxi when a Dial-a-Ride bus is not available. While a tiny part of the Dial-a-Ride service, we are concerned that the merger will be on the basis of lowering of standards for current Dial-a-Ride users from a true door-to-door service, where the driver helps the customer from their door to the Dial-a-Ride bus/car and visa-versa, to a situation where they will only pick them up from the kerb, or ‘kerb-to-kerb’ as it’s called in the consultation.
Worryingly, the wording of the consultation introduction implies this is a decision has already been made. This suspicion is reinforced by loaded questions in the consultation questionnaire such as Question 8 that “would you prefer a door-to-door service, where the driver helps you to and from the door, instead of a kerb-to-kerb service if this meant you received fewer or more expensive journeys?” This effectively pressures existing Taxicard users not to opt for true door-to-door service for fear of a reduction the service.
Transport for All rejects the idea that a full door-to-door service would be so expensive as to require cuts in the number of journeys or a rise in costs to the service user. In many cases assisting a customer from their door to the car would be much, quicker than the driver waiting for a customer – saving time and money.
The whole purpose of Dial-a-Ride and Taxicard services is to assist people who find the ‘kerb-to-kerb’ service such as buses difficult or impossible to use. With an ageing society whose population is set to rise and so maintaining door-to-door services becomes even more important.
A new Taxicard contract
Over the last five years Taxicard has become more expensive and the service takes you a shorter distance under the subsidy than it ever has done. This has led to a year on year decline of the service as users abandon Taxicard for cheaper alternatives.
Therefore the opportunity to improve the service through creating and awarding a new contract is a golden opportunity to fix this much valued option of accessible transport.
The Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) industry has changed considerably over the last few years, with the arrival of applications based PHV services for example. TfA hopes that London Councils and TfL will ensure that these changes are used to benefit London’s Taxicard members and that the new contract makes the scheme the most flexible and accessible it can be.
A joined up service
We believe that an integrated Dial-A-Ride and Taxicard would mean more options and greater flexibility for Disabled and older Londoners. However the details of how this merger would happen has always been a conundrum and the last decade has seen numerous reports and reviews looking at the details of a merger.
The latest effort by TfL, the ‘Social needs Transport review’ put forward a road map in as to what integration would look like. However it has never been put out to consultation to members – instead elements of it are now being actioned although the original time frame has slipped. TfA believes that both Dial-A-Ride and Taxicard are a vital lifeline door-to-door services should not be treated as the poor family relation in our transport network. They need the resources, ring-fenced funding and ultimately the political will to ensure they work to serve our capital’s growing Disabled and older communities.
We would encourage you to complete the consultation (the deadline is the 31st March 2017). If you share our concerns please express them in the final Question 16, which is for further comment. You could also take this opportunity to express any other problems you have with the Taxicard scheme. For example members have told us the current App is not accessible for visually impaired people, and that waiting times rarely, if ever, live up to existing specifications, as one supporter told us: “In my experience 15 or more minutes late is common, I would be delighted if the taxi could be relied upon to be a mere 10 minutes late!”.