The Challenges of Hailing a Taxi as a Wheelchair User

When you need a taxi but the company can’t provide an accessible taxi, what is the solution?

Where I live in the U.K., there are two primary taxi companies. Both no longer seem to provide taxis after 10 p.m. and no one is able to pre-book an accessible taxi more than an hour in advance. While this is frustrating and inconvenient, I believe these companies are only partially at fault.

These taxi companies previously offered a comprehensive service to wheelchair users, but they did so by charging extra, a fare and a half to be precise. At that time, this was challenged by the equality commission and another local wheelchair user. They lost and were required to reduce the fare. It’s now a fare and a third.

I believe the case won because it should have, and the intention was to stop disabled people having to pay extra just because they are disabled. However, there was an unintentional side effect and consequence to this decision. Taxi drivers no longer believe it makes financial sense to offer accessible services, and so we now have inept services. Often you call only to hear the words “we don’t have any wheelchair accessible taxis out tonight.”

I remember when I first was told I was going to be charged extra for my journey, I felt confused, as I couldn’t understand how this was fair. However, I also felt I couldn’t challenge it for fear of not being able to get the service I needed. During my next taxi journeys, I spoke to the taxi drivers and asked for their thoughts. They offered many reasons as to why felt they had to charge extra:

1) They have to pay for the car adaptions themselves, the government does not subsidize them.

2) It can take extra time to support a wheelchair user into or out of the car

3) They felt the mobility component of Disabled Living Allowance / Personal Independence Payment supported the wheelchair user to pay for their taxi journeys, so they did not feel it was unjust to charge extra.

I couldn’t argue with much of their reasoning, as I did not feel the drivers deserve to be out of pocket. But it also did not sit comfortably that people with disabilities have to pay for needing more support, when this is not something we have chosen. However, where can this money come from? What might the solution be?

On a similar note, when you can’t pre-book a wheelchair accessible taxi and so have no option but to take a standard taxi, but then are reliant on others to push you in your manual wheelchair; what do you do when that taxi refuses to take you and says their car boot is too small for the chair, they are not insured to take any wheelchairs, or they have hurt their back? The reality is, it might well take longer to wait for me to enter and exit the car and the driver may lose time or another fare as a result. But again I wonder, do other wheelchair users find themselves in similar positions? What have they done? What is fair?

I don’t think it’s fair a taxi driver has to pay extra to provide an accessible vehicle or lose a possible needed fare while supporting a wheelchair user, but I equally don’t think it’s fair to limit an essential method of transport for wheelchair users, or expect a wheelchair user to fund the difference.

Getty image by Shaiith.

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