Taxis for All
Taxis provide a uniquely flexible transport service. They are available any time of the day or night and take passengers direct from their desired pick-up point to any (reasonable!) destination. This personalised service can be handy for all of us and is also particularly important for many disabled people.
More than ten million people in the UK have reported some form of disability. This includes around 1.2 million wheelchair users3. People living with a disability – particularly something which affects their mobility – often find taxi services particularly important. This also includes an ever-growing number of people who are living longer and who experience reduced mobility in their later years.
While there are ‘dial-a-ride’ type schemes in many areas, often you have to ring to book a lift several days in advance. Passengers may then need to wait ‘till a large minibus makes it way to them and then goes round various other pick-ups and drop-offs, before they finally get where they need to go.
Taxis and private hire cars, by comparison, can be ordered at short notice and will take a disabled person right to the shops, doctor, a friend or relative or wherever it is they want to get to. It’s the ultimate ‘door-to-door’ service, if you like. In fact, research has shown that disabled people rely on taxis 67% more than able bodied people4.
The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee states that:
“ . . . for a large number of elderly and disabled people, [taxis] are quite literally a lifeline. Often taxis provide the only means of accessible local transport, or the only accessible link to long distance transport, for example by rail or air. In fact, they are the most flexible form of public transport there is.”
What does this all mean for taxi and private hire car operators and drivers? On one hand, there is an obligation to provide equality of service to all customers, wherever possible. Hackney taxi drivers, for example, are legally required to stop when hailed by a wheelchair user. In many areas the local authority requires some or all public hire taxis to be wheelchair accessible.
It’s not just all about additional obligations for the taxi trade, however. Looked at positively, older and disabled people offer a large part of your potential income. Older people, for example, often like to go back to using someone they know and trust. So, if you get one fare with an older person and get on well with them, they may well take a note of your number and ‘adopt’ you as their ‘go-to’ taxi driver. Good for them having someone they can rely on and good business for you.
Especially if you have a wheelchair accessible cab, you should be able to benefit from contract work with local schools, colleges, social care or medical services. This might be something your local taxi association or radio circuit has won through a tender. This can result in a nice, steady income which can keep you going during the week. It’s quite common to see taxis sitting about on slow ranks in the early afternoon, then several of them heading off for the ‘school run’ at half past three. Knowing you have a firm booking every morning and/or afternoon certainly adds welcome stability to what can otherwise be an up-and-down kind of business.
There are differences between wheelchair accessible taxis too. Some of the larger cities insist that cabs must offer side-loading wheelchair access (i.e. from the pavement) and often demand a bulkhead – a built-in screen which separates the driver, in the front of the vehicle, from the passenger compartment in the rear. This in turn leads to vehicles with facing passenger seats and an intercom system, so the passengers can speak to the driver when they need to. Usually the rear facing passengers seats are of the ‘tip-up’ type, which means they fold out of the way when not needed and when a wheelchair is to be accommodated. Some of these ‘full-specification’ taxis even offer a pull-out, under-floor wheelchair ramp. Where taxi buyers have a choice of vehicles, the Peugeot E7 is the best-selling full specification taxi in the UK.
Many other local councils require taxis to be wheelchair accessible but do not specify ‘side-loading’ ramps and separated passenger compartments. In these areas, wheelchair accessible taxis with ramps at the rear of the vehicle are often more popular. Some of these, like the Peugeot Premier, are cleverly designed and are more or less the same as a standard car.
When not in use for a wheelchair passenger, the cab offers normal seating for the driver and four passengers. Because the wheelchair ramp folds away flat there’s also a large, unobstructed boot space for luggage as well. The cab can be turned into a wheelchair accessible vehicle in a minute or so, whenever that’s needed, then switched back to a standard car, just as easily. Because of their flexibility and relatively low price tag, cabs like the Premier and Volkswagen Kudos have become hugely popular wherever general wheelchair access is required.
3 Source: National Health Service.
4 Source: Attitudes of Disabled People to Public Transport, DPTAC (2001)
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