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TX: 14.04.08 - Taxis

PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON

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ROBINSON
Taxi drivers who refuse to pick up blind people and guide dogs can face legal penalties, but there are no such sanctions if they refuse someone who is in a wheelchair. Baroness Nicky Chapman, one of the people's peers, says it's a common occurrence and she wants the government to implement clauses in the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act. The clauses relate to wheelchair users and taxis. Geoff Adams-Spink, the BBC's age and disability correspondent, took to the streets with a wheelchair user, Ruth Bashall, who's been involved in training cab drivers, to try to find out more.

ADAMS-SPINK
Okay, well the first cab on the rank, the driver didn't seem to have any problem with picking us up and taking us to Oxford Street, so he's now pulled round into a slightly better area in order to load Ruth's wheelchair.

Surprised?

BASHALL
Pleasantly surprised. I think the fact that it's a sunny day, the fact that it's dry and so on and so on helps a lot, it's not the rush hour and so on. But I still hear reports from too many disabled people that they're not being picked up.

ADAMS-SPINK
The driver, Ted, was extremely helpful but was quick to defend his fellow drivers against accusations that they don't want to pick up disabled passengers.

TED
The point is taxi drivers are all self-employed, they get no grants whatsoever from the government or from the local authority and they expect us to act like a social service and we're not, we're scraping a living in very stressful situations.

ADAMS-SPINK
As you might expect the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association is robust in the defence of its members. But the LTDA's general secretary, Bob Oddy, admits some drivers feel uncomfortable around disabled people.

ODDY
When you're confronted with particularly a severely disabled person, when you're not expecting it and you're not used to it, it can be awkward and embarrassing and that is the main reason why drivers refuse a journey. I'm not saying they should do so but that's the reality. But the other thing that's very important, to put this in context, and this is very, very important, is the average driver who does not work on a radio circuit, the chances of being requested to carry a wheelchair passenger it's probably once in about two years on the street, it's that rare.

CHAPMAN
I was at a hotel trying to get a taxi to go to the House of Lords for quite an important meeting.

ADAMS-SPINK
Baroness Nicky Chapman comes down to London from Leeds every week to fulfil her duties in the House of Lords. A particularly unpleasant incident last summer made her determined to take on the cabbies.

CHAPMAN
Nine taxis in a row refused to take me. They had a variety of reasons - bad back, no ramp, ramps were faulty. And then the last driver to refuse me was completely rude and obnoxious and he was so rude I actually complained to the Public Carriage Office. They started legal proceedings. They got all the paperwork done and it was only when they passed it on to their legal team they realised the clauses they were going to use had not been brought into force.

ADAMS-SPINK
Had they been implemented the Public Carriage Office's job would have been simpler, according to Julian Fiorentini of the PCO.

FIORENTINI
They would make our job a fair bit easier because I mean as you probably are aware the first thing that we knew about not being able to bring a case was when we actually tried to help the Baroness to prosecute the drivers that did refuse her.

ADAMS-SPINK
We're on Wigmore Street now. Ruth's attempting to hail a cab. Is he going to stop? Yes he is.

The driver, William, tells us he encounters about one disabled passenger every week. But he admits that some of his fellow drivers would rather not put themselves out for someone in a wheelchair.

WILLIAM
Yes I'm afraid so. Maybe because it takes a little bit longer than normal. I'm not excusing them, you know.

ADAMS-SPINK
Attitudes are one thing but according to Andrew Overton, who's involved in the manufacture and retail of taxis, the industry and local authorities are looking to central government for a clear lead in terms of what is and what isn't needed to improve the accessibility of taxis.

OVERTON
If you consider that there are some 380 local authorities across England, Wales and Scotland and virtually none of them have identical policies, I think that local authorities are looking for guidance from government about what they require in the way of standards for an accessible taxi.

ADAMS-SPINK
And is government being clear about what that guidance should be?

OVERTON
I'm afraid they're not, no, which makes life very difficult for us as manufacturers as well because we would like to invest in the future of our taxi and make it better but if we make that investment and it proves to be the wrong thing we've spent our money unwisely.

ADAMS-SPINK
The government seems keen to consult the taxi industry and users about what they want but stops short of imposing UK wide standards. Rosie Winterton is a junior minister at the Department for Transport.

WINTERTON
We said in 2003 that we would look at making all taxis wheelchair accessible. However, we received quite a few representations from people saying well people with disabilities not everybody is in a wheelchair, obviously and there are different requirements for people with different disabilities. So simply making every taxi wheelchair accessible is not the answer for everybody and we need to recognise that it is a bit more complicated than perhaps first - on first approach if you're going to have a genuinely accessible taxi service for all people with disabilities.

ADAMS-SPINK
None of this cuts much ice with Baroness Nicky Chapman, who's considering introducing a private members bill unless the government acts decisively.

CHAPMAN
I think unless you actually experience the discrimination it's easy to get waylaid. You know people are sat around tables in committees trying to design the perfect taxi, cover every impairment, and you can't. So instead of getting on and make the best of what we've got and bringing into the vehicles we have now and then working on it, it's just got pushed to one side.

ROBINSON
Baroness Chapman ending that report by Geoff Adams-Spink.

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