<Editor’s note: This article was written before the issue in Teeside was resolved, but we felt that it was still worth publishing. A follow up article about the resolution can be found here.>
Some of you may remember the complaint submitted to the Taxi Committee of Aberdeen City Council, regarding several incidents involving the refusal of taxi drivers to take Guide or Assistance dogs.
Although there was some press coverage at the time, with some vocal taxi drivers making comments about “damage” to their cabs, or allergies from a dog, it became clear that this was not only a medical issue but a religious one -which, as another protected characteristic under the equality act, makes the issue more sensitive from both sides.
You will find the full Committee meeting report here:
“Alastair Williamson [Chair of the Disability Advisory Group] provided further details, explaining that apparently certain refusals to carry assistance dogs were due to religious reasons.
Paul Connolly explained that although there was a requirement in the licensing conditions for taxi drivers to carry assistance dogs in terms of the Equality Act 2010, there were also protected characteristics relating to religion in the Act. Mr Connolly indicated that he would contact the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for clarification in this regard”
In another case, where an Officer of the RNIB was taking part in a BBC News 24 programme, a cab under contract to the BBC was used to get the woman and her guide dog home- they were refused. This resulted in a court case and a hefty fine.
This advice from the Government spells out very clearly what your rights are with taxis and minicabs if you have an Assistance dog:
“If you travel with an assistance dog they must be allowed into the taxi or minicab with you, unless the driver has an exemption certificate. This can be issued if they’ve got a medical condition made worse by contact with dogs.
It’s illegal to be charged extra to travel in a taxi or minicab with an assistance dog. Otherwise the driver could be fined up to £1,000.
The following types of dog can be taken with you in taxis or minicabs:
- guide dogs trained by the Guide Dogs organisation
- hearing dogs trained by Hearing Dogs
- assistance dogs trained by Dogs for the Disabled, Support Dogs or Canine Partners”.
Further advice from the EHRC can be found here, which states that:
“Religious or cultural beliefs have sometimes been cited as a reason for non-admittance of assistance dogs. However, there is a legal requirement to permit access to assistance dogs and such beliefs are not a defense against non-compliance. However, this is a sensitive aspect of the access issue and tact should be used by all involved.”
These issues could easily be remedied by simply adding a single line to the script that taxi dispatchers read from; “Do you have any specific requirements?”. This would mean that, for pre-booked taxis at least, someone who requires an assistance dog would get a taxi driver who would be willing to take the fare, without offending anyone’s religious sensibilities.
However, this story from yesterday as reported in the BBC News appears to be a simple and blatant form of discrimination.
Recently all taxi operators in this area were warned that they could lose their licences to operate as they were unfairly overcharging for disabled passengers, with a report from the local authority showing that wheelchair users were sometimes being charged double the standard the fare.
According to the BBC, owner Mohammed Bashir, of Boro Taxis in Teesside, has stated that he is refusing to pick up disabled people on “economic grounds”. He makes his argument thus:
“The simple fact is if you order a car and four people jump in you are charged for a taxi. If you order an eight-seater minibus and eight people jump in you are charged for a minibus, if you order a minibus and there’s only one person you will still be charged for a minibus because that’s what you ordered.”
In order to have uniform set prices there are meters in cabs, which are set and controlled by the local licensing authority and enforced by the Police. So when somebody hails a licensed cab, the driver starts the meter and the passenger pays the hire displayed on the meter at journey end.
So it would seem on the face of it, that to offer economic grounds as a reason for refusal to carry disabled persons has no basis in fact. I doubt that any local authority or the Police for that matter would allow unlicensed unregulated cabs. Would you get into an uninsured, dirty cab, with no license plates, where the driver has no ID on display?
It would seem that Disability Groups have to start collating all of these reports which result from discrimination, in order to achieve an information network and database showing the unequal application of the law in different places and sharing their local experience so that effective uniform practice is achieved.
If prosecutions have been brought in England under Disability Rights and Equality legislation, why not in Scotland?