Wheelchair accessibility in taxis and private hire vehicles

Westminster Transport Minister Andrew Jones has announced that taxis will soon be under legal duties to carry wheelchair using passengers and will not be able to charge extra fares for doing so.

The announcement was issued hours before the publication of a House of Lords report on the Equality Act and Disability. The report highlighted that taxi drivers were sometimes refusing to accept passengers in wheelchairs and were at times overcharging such passengers.

The legal duties are contained at section 165 of the Equality Act 2010. The key components of section 165 are as follows:

  • Taxi drivers cannot refuse hires from wheelchair users.
  • Taxis are prohibited from charging wheelchair-users an additional fare for a journey.
  • Drivers will be required to carry the passenger’s wheelchair if the wheelchair-user chooses to sit in a passenger seat during the journey.
  • Drivers will be obliged to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the wheelchair-user is carried in safe and reasonable comfort.
  • Drivers must provide reasonable levels of mobility-assistance to the disabled passenger.

These duties, which are expected to apply to taxis and private hire vehicles, are likely to be introduced throughout Great Britain by way of legal regulations later this year. Drivers who breach these duties will be liable on summary conviction to pay a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale. The current maximum level of the fine is £1,000.

The duties were enacted over 20 years ago in the Disability Discrimination Act along with rights for taxi passengers with assistance dogs. The rights relating to passengers with assistance dogs were introduced in Scotland over 10 years ago and required separate Scottish regulations. These regulations, the Taxi Drivers' Licences (Carrying of Guide Dogs and Hearing Dogs) (Scotland) Regulations 2003 and the Private Hire Car Drivers' Licences (Carrying of Guide Dogs and Hearing Dogs) (Scotland) Regulations 2004, require licensed taxis and private hire vehicles to carry guide, hearing and other prescribed assistance dogs in their taxis, without additional charge to the passenger.

Despite the earlier regulations relating to assistance dogs, the legal duties relating to wheelchair users have not been implemented by successive governments over the past 20 years. In order to bring these legal duties into force in Scotland, it is likely that they will have to be implemented by way of separate Scottish regulations.

Lord Holmes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Disability Commissioner, said the Government’s announcement was “long overdue” and would “finally give disabled people the right to travel by taxi on an equal basis.”

He added: “While this is a step in the right direction, there are still many provisions of the Equality Act which have not been brought into force…the Commission will continue to press government to fulfil its responsibility to remove the barriers which hold disabled people back, and place accessibility at the top of its agenda.”

Going forward, it is important to note that the responsibility for granting or renewing taxi licenses in Scotland rests with licensing authorities. Licensing authorities can, under section 10(2) of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, refuse to grant or renew a taxi license until they are satisfied that the vehicle in question is suitable in size, type and design for use as a taxi or private hire vehicle. Consequently, it is open to licensing authorities to use this discretionary power to ensure that licenses can only be granted, or renewed, where the taxi or private hire vehicle meet the licensing authority’s accessibility requirements.

Last updated: 20 Jul 2016