Councils unprepared for new law supporting disabled taxi users

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Disabled taxi passengers across Scotland won’t be able to take advantage of a new law because their councils haven’t made the right preparations, according to disability activist research.

Just eight of 32 councils in Scotland are expecting to meet the government-recommended October deadline to ensure equal treatment for disabled taxi passengers.

A change in the Equality Act enacted in April this year means that taxi drivers face a fine of up to £1,000 if they refuse to transport wheelchair users or attempt to charge them extra.

However, the law only applies to drivers registered on council lists of wheelchair accessible taxis, known as Section 167 lists. Perth and Kinross Council is the only council in Scotland to have completed a list, with a further seven expecting to meet the deadline before October.

Eighteen councils have no plans to create a list or do not know if they will do so, leaving disabled passengers in areas including Aberdeen and Stirling facing overpriced rides and difficulty booking trips.

Disability activist Doug Paulley conducted Freedom of Information research with all councils in England, Scotland and Wales. Of them, only 11 per cent of councils have created a list, with a further 30 per cent intending to do so this year. That means 59 per cent have no firm plans to hit the deadline, including 26 per cent who have no plans to create a list at all.

Paulley and charity Muscular Dystrophy UK, which campaigns for disability rights, are calling on the government to make councils take their responsibilities seriously, and for all councils to set a deadline for creating a list.

Nic Bungay, Director of Campaigns, Care and Information at Muscular Dystrophy UK, which lobbied for years for the law change, said:

“Taxis are not a luxury for disabled people – they often represent the only way to get from A to B when public transport isn’t accessible. Doug’s research comprehensively demonstrates how many councils are failing to ensure that disabled passengers are not penalised. We need them all to implement lists now as per the government’s recommendations, and for the Department for Transport to promote the lists as a matter of urgency.”

Doug Paulley carried out the research following a Select Committee report into the Equality Act 2010 on disability. He says:

“It is disappointing that the Government’s intent in bringing in this legislation is being undermined by the failure of many councils to undertake the required office work, meaning that taxi drivers can continue to discriminate against wheelchair users with impunity. While conducting this research, it became clear that many councils simply didn’t think to create them until prompted. I recommend disabled people and their allies raise the issue with their local council.”

Paulley’s research also found that:-

· Two fifths of councils have under 10 per cent of their vehicles registered as wheelchair accessible, with 15 having no wheelchair-accessible taxis registered at all;

· Only 30 per cent of councils require taxi drivers to take part in disability awareness training.

Research by Muscular Dystrophy UK in 2016 has indicated that a quarter of disabled people have been refused service by a taxi driver, purely because they are disabled.

The results of the 32 responding councils in Scotland:

· Councils that have already created a Section 167 list: Perth and Kinross (1);

· Councils that plan to produce a Section 167 lists this year, meeting government guidance: East Renfrewshire, Shetland Islands, South Ayrshire, City of Edinburgh, West Dunbartonshire, Dundee City, Glasgow City (7);

· Councils that plan to produce a Section 167 list but with no specified deadline: Dumfries and Galloway, East Ayrshire, Na h-Eileanan Siar, Inverclyde, West Lothian, North Lanarkshire (6);

· Councils that are undecided on whether to produce a list: Falkirk, Highland, Midlothian, Moray, North Ayrshire, Orkney Islands, South Lanarkshire, Aberdeen City, Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire (10);

· Councils that have no current plans to produce a list: Clackmannanshire, East Lothian, Fife, Scottish Borders, Stirling, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Bute, Angus (8).