Taxi licensing officers at Bradford Council have warned taxi and minicab companies they could face prosecution under discrimination laws following claims they are charging wheelchair users up to twice as much as much as able-bodied passengers.
A meeting was held between bosses at the Council’s fleets and licensing team, taxi driver organisations and private hire operators after campaigners at Keighley-based People First said they had evidence that firms were “discriminating against the disabled” by charging inflated rates for adapted vehicles which can carry wheelchairs and up to seven passengers.
People First co-ordinator Hanna Bennet aid: “Companies can charge what they like but they can't discriminate against disabled people.”
Wheelchair user Tom Walsh acted as a “mystery shopper”, phoning several firms to ask for a taxi , then the following day to ask for a cab for a wheelchair user. He said each firm quoted vastly different prices, with several charging double for the use of an adapted vehicle, adding more than £20 to the price of trips between Keighley in Bradford.
He said: “There's a feeling that taking taxis is a luxury, but for some disabled people it's a necessity. I have to take a lot of trips in a taxi.
“Some disabled people have more taxi trips than others because of health appointments. It's not just about going to the bingo.”
The Council has now told firms they must charge the same amount for both kinds of vehicle and have been given six months to comply or face prosecution.
Stuart Hastings, who runs Metro Keighley Taxis, said he had asked his drivers to comply immediately.
He said the company recently paid £25,000 for two adapted taxis, which he said were specialist vehicles that cost more to run.
Mr Hastings said a journey normally taking ten minutes would take half an hour due to the extra time needed to get the wheelchair in and out of the vehicle, including helping the user and putting down a ramp, meaning taxi drivers losing money.
Mr Hastings added: “A large firm like us will subsidise the money or stand the loss, but a one-man band won't be able to take the job.”
The new rules apply to private hire vehicles that passengers book either over the phone or by walking into the taxi office.
Hackney carriages, which queue in taxi ranks, have meters which already charge everybody the same fare.
Shabir Munir, a spokesman for Bradford Hackney Carriage Drivers and Owners Association, who attended the meeting, said: “There is no justification for discriminating against the disabled and if people are breaking the law,the public should be made aware.”
Carol Stos, the Council’s fleet and licensing manager, said the the authority could regulate charges made by hackney carriages but private hire firms were able to set charges.