The Disability Discrimination Act
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 is an initiative to prevent discrimination against disabled persons in all realms of public life. Under the act, a disability is defined as an impairment that is either mental or physical and that causes considerable and long-term difficulties on their ability to carry out everyday activities.
The government is currently trying to introduce regulations in order to meet the requirements of the DDA. For public transport including hackney carriage taxis, Transport 2010 A Ten Year Plan has been established that aims to make them all accessible to disabled passengers. For taxi drivers, this means that it will be an offence if their vehicle fails to conform to the Accessibility Regulations by 2020. The regulations are initially being drafted in to ensure that all new taxis are designed and manufactured to allow access and easy use for as wide a range of disabilities as possible, but as yet older taxis are not forced to comply.
In keeping with the new regulations, a local taxi licensing authority could decide that all taxis in their area should be the same as London�s black cabs. This is to meet the regulations regarding door sizes and the passenger space inside the cab. However, it will also be possible for the local authority to apply for exemption if making all licensed taxis in its area black cabs would drastically reduce the number of taxis in operation.
What it Means
Unless exempt on medical or physical grounds, the DDA requires taxi drivers to assist disabled people in accessing the vehicle and help them with any luggage that they carry. Specifically in regard to wheelchairs, able taxi drivers and their vehicles must be prepared to carry the passenger whilst they remain in their wheelchair and not add any additional charges for the service. If they choose to sit in the seat and not the wheelchair, the driver must carry the wheelchair and offer assistance where needed.
New taxis must be modified to contain the facilities of access ramps, handrail supports and swivel seats to allow easy mobility for as many passengers as possible. The location and size of each will be laid out in the new rules.
The new taxi regulations will only cover England and Wales, although Scotland and Northern Ireland are instigating their own policies regarding the UK-wide standards.
Dogs – Since 2001, all taxis and private hire vehicles have also been required to carry guide dogs for those with visual and hearing impairments, as well as other disabilities. This service must carry no extra charge, and drivers are only exempt under medical conditions. The dogs themselves must be wearing the identifying harness and jacket and should be kept under control.
Any driver that refuses and has no grounds for exemption, or who charges the passenger for carrying the dog could be fined up to £1,000.
Private Hire Vehicles
The modification requirements for hackney carriage taxis as laid down the Disability Discrimination Act will not apply to private hire vehicles. However, such minicabs may fall under jurisdiction if they provide a contract hire service to a railway station or airport for example.
Like the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), many argue that minicabs should be made equally accessible to disabled, or least try to offer assistance and provisions to make the existing vehicle more comfortable, and the driver more prepared. It is reported that while disabled persons travel a third less than those who are able-bodied, disabled people use private hire vehicles around 67% more often. It makes sense therefore for minicab drivers to be provided with some training and advice to ensure smooth passage for some of their most frequent customers.
The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) provides research and advice to the Government to try and better meet the aims of the Disability Discrimination Act. While it has no regulatory or lobbying powers, it has provided some guidelines as to how taxi and minicab drivers might meet the DDA requirements and be more accessible to their regular disabled passengers.
Primarily, DPTAC advises that drivers should avoid making assumptions or generalisations in regard to disabled passengers, as disability is much more than just being in a wheelchair. Many disabled people do not use a wheelchair and their disabilities are not always visible. DPTAC suggests that minicab drivers receive training and information regarding various disabilities and the best way to offer assistance. If they have more information it is argued that drivers will be more willing to help and the whole journey from booking to arrival will go more smoothly for both parties. It is thought that some hackney carriages refuse to stop because they are unsure how to help, and hopefully relevant training for black cabs minicabs alike will give confidence to both cabbie and passenger.
DPTAC Advice for Minicabs
If a passenger is blind:
The driver should announce his entrance on entering a public premises or knock on the door of a house. They should guide the passenger to the vehicle if necessary and describe which way it is facing, the type of car it is, and any other useful information. They should inform the passenger of what it ahead; whether there is a kerb or if they must cross the road.
At the end of the journey, the driver should read out the price from the meter (if there is one) and count the money into the passenger’s hand so they know that they have received the correct change. They should then offer to guide the passenger out of the vehicle to their destination if required.
If a passenger is deaf:
Again, the driver should announce their arrival at the house or public place. Maps, a pen and paper should be kept in the car to allow for clear communication between driver and passenger.
If the passenger has a speech impediment:
Patience is paramount if the passenger has difficulties speaking. The driver should not try to second guess what is trying to be said, and shouldn’t be afraid to ask again if they have not understood fully, rather than setting off and hoping for the best.
Particular patience and clarity are required when driving passengers with learning difficulties. The driver should speak clearly and plainly to the customer, and count change into their hand. While queries and complicated sentences from the driver should be kept to a minimum, they should avoid speaking to the passenger like a child.
Accessibility Regulations – Controversies
Under the government initiative Transport 2010 – The Ten Year Plan, £132 billion of public funds has been dedicated to disabled access improvements for public transport including trains and buses. Taxi firms and taxi drivers however are responsible for the modifications of their own vehicles as they are purchased by the driver who is individually responsible for their maintenance, or they are purchased by the company who must maintain them. Modifying their own vehicles will inevitably involve a big outlay for taxi drivers, with potential fines if they do not meet requirements, much to the chagrin of many independent drivers and firms with fleets of cars.
A further question has been raised regarding the effectiveness of the modifications being installed or that have yet to be implemented. It has been argued that changes have been based around the needs of wheelchair users, conforming to the stereotype that most people with disabilities are wheelchair users and ignoring the huge range of conditions that can affect people�s day to day abilities.
The other side of this debate however is that due to the wide variety of disabilities, it is going to be impossible to meet all needs to the fullest, and the government should instead concentrate on setting full regulations for significant but general modifications that can be completed as soon as possible, with improvements or additions perhaps at a later date when there has been time to see what it is still necessary.
In trying to design this “universal taxi” however, delays and the length of time involved in the plan means that disabled passengers will continue to experience frequent travel difficulties for some time yet.