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CHANGE OF PLAN: Just 25 wheelchair accessible taxis remain in whole South Gloucestershire area

South Gloucestershire Council faces a significant challenge in balancing the need for accessible taxis with the overall availability of hackney carriage services.

The council's policy, initially aimed at ensuring all hackney carriage vehicles are wheelchair accessible by October 2024, is now under review.

The council's resolution to make all hackney carriages wheelchair accessible was first set in 2017. However, since then, the number of licensed hackney carriages has drastically decreased. From a total of 300 vehicles in 2016, only 81 remained in early 2024. The current fleet includes just 25 wheelchair-accessible taxis, a significant drop that has raised alarm about the viability of maintaining adequate service levels.

The cost of converting or purchasing wheelchair-accessible vehicles, which are predominantly diesel, is seen as a considerable burden for taxi operators. Additionally, the anticipated shift to hybrid or electric vehicles by 2030 exacerbates these financial pressures, making the transition unaffordable for many drivers.

Supply Chain Issues: The availability of wheelchair-accessible vehicles has been hampered by global supply chain disruptions, leading to delays and increased costs. This issue was highlighted in a March 2023 report, which led to further postponement of the policy's implementation.

Regulatory Changes: Recent Department for Transport (DfT) guidelines, updated in November 2023, now require licensing authorities to consider a broader range of accessibility needs. This guidance has prompted the council to reassess its current policy to better reflect the needs of all disabled individuals, not just wheelchair users.

Proposed Changes

To address these issues, the council is considering a mixed fleet policy. This approach would allow existing hackney carriage proprietors the choice to either maintain or convert to wheelchair-accessible vehicles. New licences, however, would still require wheelchair accessibility. This proposal is part of a broader consultation on the Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy scheduled for 2024.

The council's move to defer the current policy's implementation until June 2025 aims to provide more time to gather feedback and make informed decisions. This delay is intended to ensure that any new policy effectively balances accessibility needs with the economic realities faced by taxi operators.

South Gloucestershire's situation is a microcosm of a broader issue affecting many local authorities nationwide. The challenge lies in promoting inclusivity while ensuring the sustainability of taxi services.

The council's concern over the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis highlights the complex interplay between regulatory goals and practical challenges. The proposed shift to a mixed fleet policy represents a pragmatic approach, aiming to preserve taxi services while enhancing accessibility.


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