Disabled campaigners angered by councils stance over taxi restrictions in Hackney and Islington

The Taxi industry has recently held talks with the mayor of Hackney over the bizarre situation where some taxis will be banned from entering a number of streets in Shoreditch, whilst others would be allowed.

Nine roads in the area have been subject to restrictions during peak hours. Ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV) – those that emit less than 75kg/km of CO2 are the only vehicles permitted in those roads, along with cyclists and pedestrians. 

This means that only electric taxis and not diesel taxis can enter the area, thus possibly creating a conflict in law under both the Hackney Carriage Act and the Equalities Act.

Disabled and elderly passengers could potentially, be restricted from accessing these roads unless the taxi that they are travelling in is electric. Currently, approximately 5% of London's 23,400 taxi drivers have access to, or are using an electric taxi. At present there is only one model of electric taxi available to the industry, although an alternative vehicles are in the pipeline. There are however a serious dirth of charging points, thus creating problems for the taxi industry. Last month London Taxi PR (LTPR), with the support of Transport for All, a group championing disabled and elderly rights, and Inclusion London, which supports more than 70 deaf and disabled organisations, met with Phil Glanville, arguing that by allowing only ULEVs into the zones disabled passengers are at a disadvantage It was also pointed out that a restraint of trade could ensue in relation to a taxi drivers right to operate in the area that he or she is licensed for. The Hackney Gazette initially reported on March 5, that a representative from London Taxi PR said: “London Taxis have been able to move without restriction throughout London for 365 years, providing the only public transport door to door service. By restricting access to roads, they are effectively being forced into only being able to offer a 5 per cent service to customers. “London Taxis are fully wheelchair accessible and many passengers with disabilities have come to depend and rely on them to allow them to be more independent and get around London, quickly and safely.” The meeting was adjourned, with LTPR stating that views and facts had been put forward on behalf of the London taxi profession as well as its passengers Cllr Feryal Clark, Hackney’s transport chief has said that it is Hackney Councils goal is to reclaim the streets from polluting motor vehicles, however it has been reported in The Hackney Post that Cllr Clark has sparked a major storm by saying: "unrestricted access to black cabs is not a human right”.

Disabled activists and representatives from the taxi industry have hit back at her with the chair of Transport for All saying: "The idea that black cabs are ‘not a human right’ is deeply offensive, of course, it’s a human right. Why should disabled people be restricted where the able-bodied aren’t?”

Jimmy Teleford, 53, who is a wheelchair user and disability rights advocate for local charity Choice in Hackney, said: “For disabled passengers, there is no other choice, lots of our service users use the black taxi card scheme and they’ll be affected. “Anything that restricts where disabled people can be dropped off is bad news."

London Cab Drivers Club head, Grant Davis, said: “Black cabs are the only way disabled people can get from door to door in London. “In my taxi, I pick up everyone from mothers with children, to elderly and disabled people. If you ban taxis from roads what you’re doing is banning our passengers, fellow members of the public, from having access to all these roads. “I thought it was transport for all, I thought the members of the public in a wheelchair have the same rights to someone able-bodied who can walk.” 

Lee Sheppard, director of London Taxi PR said "To discriminate against the 95 per cent when actually only 5 per cent of them are electric puts pressure on drivers and passengers so we can’t go about fulfilling our job."

However, the storm doesn't end there, Cllr Jon Burke has also sparked a "Twitter-storm" with a series of seemingly inflammatory tweets. 

Cllr Burke, Hackney Councils Cabinet Member for Energy, Sustainability and Community Services said on Twitter: "You don't "deserve" to be taken to your destination if your choice imposes significant costs - as vehicle emissions do - on other people, like kids being poisoned in their playgrounds. The right to clean air is inalienable; the desire to be chauffeured isn't." Cllr Burke, who describes himself as a "sewer socialist" on Twitter then added: "Those with mobility do, of course, have a greater need for personal taxi services, but such customers represent a minority of those responsible for the emissions stunting the lungs of Hackney's children. Most personal vehicle journeys are a luxury, not a requirement." This tweet sparked a number of angry responses, including @gblondon, who tweeted: "so i don't misrepresent you are you saying that blind and disabled people don't have the right to choice when it comes to transport, and dont have a right to a door to door service of their choosing?" @suneastkol said: "why have not banned cars from the whole borough, you think that all the pollution from the traffic your silly schemes are causing is not going to affect you?" However a more telling tweet came from @turbo_tez who said: "And just to be clear my fiance, who has mobility issues would be unable to travel to London without the freedom to use a taxi to complete her journey. How dare you decide what she does or doesn't deserve." Cllr Burke then fired back, tweeting:"Always worth reading the actual tweets Terry"

However @turbo_tez slammed the councillor by saying: "I did, it doesn't excuse the fact that you want to decide who does and doesn't deserve an accessible taxi service, the licensed taxi trade isn't the problem, and is investing substantial money to switch to some of the cleanest vehicles in London." Cllr Burke did however defend the taxi industry when cycling activist @CyclistHannah tweeted: "what difference does it make, you leave your car at home and then hail a taxi or request an Uber. It's the same level of congestion, plus a black cab emits 30x more than a private car of the same age it will take another 14 years until the last of the diesel cabs are phased out." Cllr Burke countered her comment by saying: "If you don't know the difference between an industry that provides good jobs which support families and the rabid extractive capitalism of Uber and Lyft then i suggest you do some more reading on the subject. There are also many fewer taxis than PHVs." Discussions are still currently being held surrounding the restrictions in Hackney and Islington