Local authorities have failed to prosecute a single taxi-driver for discriminating against wheelchair-users under new legislation introduced more than a year ago, according to new figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The figures show that not one taxi-driver out of more than 30,000 so far covered by the new legislation has appeared in court, despite widespread reports of discrimination.
On 6 April last year, the government finally brought into force laws that impose fines of up to £1,000 on drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles who refuse to accept wheelchair-users, try to charge them extra, or fail to provide them with appropriate assistance.
But the new laws only apply in those areas of England, Scotland and Wales where the local authority has drawn up a list – under section 167 of the Equality Act – of all the wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles in their area.
So far, only about 120 of 347 councils have drawn up a list under section 167 – just seven local authorities have failed to respond to freedom of information requests – even though the Department for Transport (DfT) has said that it should take no more than six months from April 2017 to bring in the new measures.
Those that have compiled a list cover more than 30,000 wheelchair-accessible taxis, according to figures compiled by transport access campaigner Doug Paulley through the freedom of information requests, which were sent last November.
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But Paulley’s figures also show that, of the councils that have drawn up a list, not one of them has prosecuted a taxi-driver for discriminating against a wheelchair-user – under section 165 of the act – or is aware of any drivers in its area facing prosecutions by other organisations or individuals.
Only Transport for London appears to have taken any steps towards a prosecution, telling Paulley in its freedom of information response that it had launched 19 investigations under section 165.
It said this week that two taxi-drivers were being prosecuted under section 165, with the first due to appear in court later this month.
Paulley said he was “really disappointed” by the implementation and enforcement of the new laws, which he said had been “lamentably poor, with no sign of improvement”.
He believes the figures show the legislation is not fit for purpose and needs to be replaced.
He said: “I find it difficult to believe that there haven’t been any offences committed under section 165 of the Act.
“It is not credible to believe that since this legislation was implemented, none of the drivers of any of those taxis have refused a wheelchair-user travel, failed to strap the wheelchair-user or their wheelchair in properly, left the meter running whilst loading a wheelchair-user or failed to assist the wheelchair-user into or out of their taxi.
“I have personally experienced discrimination in these terms, by drivers of vehicles on a section 167 list.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) declined to say if it was concerned about the figures or if it believed the legislation needed to be redrawn.
But it said it was encouraged by the response from local authorities which have drawn up a list under section 167, and that it had provided guidance to help councils implement the requirements of the new laws, and expected all authorities to make the most of their new powers.
A DfT spokesman said: “We are clear that disabled people must have the same access to transport services that others take for granted.
“It is unacceptable that a minority of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers discriminate against wheelchair-users.
“We have provided councils with the means to challenge such behaviour, and they should use these powers to ensure that drivers provide wheelchair-users with assistance and cannot charge them extra.
“We expect all councils to take the steps necessary to ensure that all passengers can travel free from the fear of discrimination.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com