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FINER DETAILS REVEALED: New Taxi and PHV Disabled Persons Bill debated at House of Commons

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

A new Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles Disabled Persons Bill was discussed and supported in detail by MP’s, with the main aim of addressing the discrimination that a wide range of passengers with disabilities still face.

Support for the new Bill also arrived from the Government and the Opposition Shadow Transport Minister. Further insight into the new proposed Private Members Bill was shared in the 2nd Reading stage at the House of Commons yesterday.

Jeremy Wright, a Conservative MP for Kenilworth and Southam, said: “For many of the more than 14 million people in the UK with a disability, taxis and private hire vehicles are a vital means of transport and access to daily freedoms that most of us take for granted. That is particularly true for those who live in rural areas, such as the ones I represent, where public transport can be inaccessible or scarce. The willingness of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers to carry people with disabilities and to offer the extra help that makes their journeys manageable therefore matters hugely to the capacity of people with disabilities to get around at all.

“This House has legislated in the past to help, with the passing of the Equality Act 2010, which provided specific protections for those using wheelchairs and those with assistance dogs, but we are probably all aware from our postbags that there is still a problem. Among the thousands of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers who do all they can to support their disabled passengers, there are still some who refuse to carry them at all and still some operators who refuse to take bookings or make available the sort of reasonable assistance that would enable people with disabilities to take advantage of their services. The Bill that I propose seeks to build on the protections in that Act and to broaden them to address the discrimination that a wider range of passengers with disabilities still face. Let me set out how it seeks to do that.

“The Equality Act requires the driver of designated wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles to carry a wheelchair-using passenger at no extra charge, but it imposes no duty on the driver of any other taxi or private hire vehicle to carry a passenger who could transfer from a wheelchair into the vehicle and whose wheelchair could be folded and stored for the journey. The Bill would create that duty, unless it would not be safe or otherwise reasonable in all the circumstances for that to happen.

“When a passenger has with them mobility aids, the Bill will create a duty for drivers to carry those aids, again, unless it would be unsafe or otherwise unreasonable to do so. For passengers needing mobility assistance, the Bill will require drivers to offer such assistance as is reasonably required. For all passengers with disabilities, the Bill will create a duty for drivers to take such steps as are reasonable to ensure that they are carried in safety and reasonable comfort.

“The language of the provisions is important. They ask nothing unreasonable of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers and nothing, I suspect, that many drivers are not already doing for disabled passengers up and down the country, but they set out in law the expectations that a civilised, inclusive society should have in meeting the mobility needs of its disabled citizens.

“The Bill also follows the example of the Equality Act in making it clear that no additional charge may be made for complying with the duties that it provides for; neither can it be acceptable for drivers or taxi or private hire vehicle operating companies simply to refuse to carry disabled passengers at all in order to evade these duties. For that reason, the Bill extends the Equality Act offence for drivers refusing to carry passengers with an assistance dog or charging more for doing so to drivers and operators refusing to accept a person with any disability because of that disability. That offence and offences arising from a failure to comply with the duties that I described will be punishable with fines comparable with those relating to offences already in law under the Equality Act.

“When a taxi or private hire vehicle has been pre-booked by a passenger with a visual impairment, learning disability or a cognitive impairment, it can sometimes be difficult for them to identify the vehicle when it arrives, so the Bill will also create a duty for drivers to take reasonable steps to help the passenger to identify and find the vehicle when the driver has been made aware that some assistance is required. Once again, no extra charge can be made.

“As ever, there is a balance to be struck. The Bill is designed to improve the travelling experience of disabled passengers, but it should not do so by imposing burdens on taxi and private hire vehicle drivers they are incapable of bearing, or that it would be unreasonable to ask them to bear. That is why the new duties I have referred to describe steps it is reasonable to take and why there are defences to the offences created by the Bill, where drivers could not reasonably have known of a passenger’s disability or of the mobility assistance they might require. But where it is reasonable to require actions from drivers that would facilitate the travel of disabled passengers, we should require them.

“Some drivers have disabilities or impairments themselves, and the Equality Act provides for certificates exempting such drivers from duties under that Act, but those exemption certificates are currently very widely drawn and, I would argue, unjustifiably so. Of course it is right that drivers unable to render mobility assistance should not be subject to a duty to do so, but it does not follow that such drivers should be entitled to refuse to carry disabled passengers at all where it would be reasonable for them to do that, or to charge extra for doing so. The Bill would therefore limit the scope of exemption certificates to exclude only those duties that should properly be excluded.

“It is important to recognise that it is not just taxi and private hire vehicle drivers and operators whose actions have a bearing on the capacity of passengers with disabilities to access their services. Local licensing authorities have a part to play too, including by helping passengers who need a wheelchair-accessible vehicle to find one. The Equality Act provides that licensing authorities may maintain a list of wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles, but it does not oblige them to do so. Currently, some 79% of authorities in England maintain lists of wheelchair-accessible taxis, and 70% maintain such a list in relation to private hire vehicles, meaning that potential passengers in 20% to 30% of local authority areas do not have access to that information. Even more troubling, the current duties on drivers set out in the Equality Act apply only if their vehicle has been designated by inclusion on the relevant list by the local licensing authority. So a failure to maintain a list will make driver duties unenforceable in those areas where no list exists. For those reasons, the Bill would make the maintenance of such lists obligatory.

“Taken together, I believe these measures can make a real difference to the travelling experience of many people with disabilities and build on and improve the provisions of the Equality Act 2010. Of course, the Bill is necessarily limited in its scope, and there will be more to do. I am grateful for the views of and support from the organisations I have spoken to about the Bill who support people with a range of disabilities, as well as the representatives of operating companies and local authorities whom I also met. They were strongly of the view that the Bill would be reinforced by a requirement that all drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles should undertake disability awareness training. I am aware that the Government have already indicated that they intend to legislate for that to happen elsewhere, so it is not part of the Bill, but the duties set out in the Bill will be best met if an open conversation takes place between driver and passenger about how the passenger’s journey can be made most comfortable and convenient. Those conversations will be more likely if passengers know these new duties exist in law and are confident in expressing their needs, and drivers are equipped to clarify and meet those needs as well as they reasonably can.

“I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to assure the House that the Government intend to legislate soon for that training requirement, and of course that she will be able to express her support for the Bill. I ask right hon. and hon. Members from all parties to do the same and allow the Bill to progress to Committee, in the spirit of our common cause of making journeys in taxis and private hire vehicles better, easier and fairer for those with disabilities.”

Tan Dhesi, Shadow Transport Minister and Labour MP for Slough, was one of many MPs to support the Bill and discuss its merits. Dhesi said: “I thank Jeremy Wright for introducing this important Bill, which will help to address the barriers that disabled people face in accessing taxi and private hire vehicle services. Indeed, it is a laudable aim that we on the Opposition Benches fully support.

“Affordability and accessibility are key for people with disabilities, and the situation today is simply nowhere near good enough. According to research carried out by the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, the household of 60% of disabled people had no car, compared with 27% in the overall population. Fifty per cent. of respondents said that inaccessible transport had restricted their choice of jobs, with the proportion rising to 62% for wheelchair users and 86% of people with a visual impairment. That is the challenge that we as a society face, but the backdrop is more troubling still.

“Over the past decade, public transport has become harder and costlier to access. The failed and fragmented privatised model means that by 2024 average fares on buses are set to climb to 60% higher than they were in 2010. Shockingly, the number of bus routes is projected to fall by more than 5,000. Elderly and disabled passenger numbers are set to drop by nearly 26%. Sadly, the trend is not limited to buses: fewer than one in five railway stations are fully accessible, with the Government having cut the funding to increase disabled accessibility by 42% between 2015 and 2019.

“There is a crisis of accessibly and it paints a deeply disturbing picture. Disabled passengers already face a multitude of barriers to travel and the declining provision of public transport has done enormous damage. That is why I commend the work of my hon. Friend Charlotte Nichols in making the case for a passenger charter for disabled public transport passengers, to set out their rights and the obligations of operators.

“We should be determined to make our transport as accessible as possible and reasonable adjustments need to be made as soon as possible. That is the context in which we debate the Bill, which is focused specifically on taxi and private hire services. It will address the inconsistencies in provision under the Equality Act 2010 and expand the protections currently afforded to wheelchair and assistance dog users to all disabled people, regardless of the vehicle in which they travel. We welcome those provisions.

“As the right hon. and learned Member for Kenilworth and Southam outlined eloquently, the Bill will also create a new duty on drivers to assist disabled passengers to identify and find the vehicle they have booked, and they must not make any additional charge for doing so. The new offence to help to prevent discrimination in respect of a driver choosing to accept a passenger will be a welcome step.

“The Bill is part of an important broader picture of reform in the private hire vehicle sector, which includes the drivers who were denied rights for too long. Private hire drivers and all those employed in the gig economy deserve the same rights as other workers. Like many Members, I have been contacted by multiple hard-working private hire drivers in my Slough constituency who have somehow struggled through the past two years, having been disproportionately impacted during the pandemic. It is now more important than ever that such workers earn a decent wage, are able to take holidays and earn sick pay.

“We welcome the agreement between Uber and the GMB union that is making a tangible difference to the lives and living standards of Uber drivers, but there is much more work to be done. The Labour party would reform taxi and private hire services, including a review of licensing authority jurisdictions, setting national minimum standards of safety and accessibility, updating regulations to keep pace with technological change, and closing loopholes to ensure a level playing field.

“Labour welcomes the ambitions of the Bill and looks forward to working constructively with the right hon. and learned Member for Kenilworth and Southam if it makes its way through the House today. However, every Member will know that much work still needs to be done to make public transport accessible for people with disabilities. We must do everything we can to make that a reality.”

Transport Minister Wendy Morton, said: "I wholeheartedly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright on his success in the private Member’s Bill ballot, on bringing attention to the important issue of ending discrimination against disabled people who want to use taxis and private hire vehicles, and on addressing the barriers they face when using those services. I am pleased to confirm that the Bill has the full support of the Government. We support the proposed improvements to the Equality Act 2010 by addressing the inconsistencies in provision, and expanding protections for disabled passengers. Expanding the protections currently afforded to wheelchair and assistance dog users to all disabled people, regardless of their disability or impairment, and regardless of the type of taxi or private hire vehicle in which they travel, is an important step towards our vision of a fully inclusive transport network and building back fairer.

"With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will ask my hon. and right hon. Friends to consider that more than 14 million people in the UK —about 22% of the population—report having a disability. That is according to the Scope family resource survey of 2019-20. That includes 19% of working-age adults. Since disabled people make twice as many journeys by taxi and private hire vehicle as non-disabled people, it is clear just how important such services are. By ensuring protection from overcharging, and the provision of appropriate assistance for all disabled passengers, the Bill would take us one step closer to fulfilling the Government’s ambition for disabled people to have the same access to transport as everyone else.

“As my hon. and right hon. Friends may be aware, that ambition is clearly set out in our 2018 inclusive transport strategy, which supports the Government’s broader efforts to close the 30% employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people, by enabling disabled people to travel to work or for leisure easily, confidently, and at no additional cost. I also draw the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends to the Government’s landmark 2021 national disability strategy, which demonstrates the Government’s commitment to ending discrimination against disabled people through positive changes, helping to remove barriers, improving outcomes and opportunities for disabled people, as well as opening up broader economic benefits from disabled people being able to participate fully as they would wish.

“I am pleased that the specific proposals in the Bill have been informed by engagement with representatives from the taxi and private hire vehicle sectors, local licensing authorities, and disabled people’s organisations. Proposed new section 164A would extend existing protections to all disabled passengers in all types of taxi and private hire vehicle. The Equality Act 2010 currently, and rightly, places duties on drivers of designated wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles to carry a wheelchair user, and to do so at no additional charge. However, not all wheelchair users need or wish to remain in their wheelchair while travelling in a taxi or private hire vehicle. In practice, some wheelchair users can travel in a non-wheelchair accessible vehicle by storing their wheelchair or mobility aid in the back of the vehicle. Current legislation unnecessarily excludes such wheelchair users from the protections and provisions of assistance when using a non-designated taxi or private hire vehicle, and I am pleased that the Bill would correct that.

“Current legislation also excludes all other disabled passengers who do not use a wheelchair from any protection when travelling in any taxi or private hire vehicle. As my hon. and right hon. Friends will be aware, a huge range of impairments, beyond mobility issues, may result in a person using a wheelchair. So it is right that the Bill would create a new duty to ensure that taxi and private hire vehicle drivers do not refuse carriage to any disabled person who could reasonably travel in their vehicle, making every effort to ensure that the disabled passenger is comfortable and safe while travelling and not charging them any extra for doing so.

“Proposed new section 165A concerns identifying and finding the vehicle. I ask Members to imagine being alone, perhaps in an unfamiliar place, waiting for a taxi that they cannot see. How would they know where their pre-booked taxi was? How would they know if the rumble of the engine from the stationary car nearby is a licensed vehicle that will safely take them to their destination? That is reality for some disabled people, who end up calling operators to inquire about the whereabouts of their taxi that should have arrived some time ago, or being charged a fee for not presenting themselves when the vehicle arrived. No more. Under the Bill, disabled people will no longer be at a disadvantage when identifying a booked taxi or private hire vehicle as drivers will be required to assist all disabled passengers who need help identifying and finding their booked vehicle at no extra charge. Crucially, that will give disabled passengers the confidence that they will have the information they need to travel. As is reasonable, the driver must be made aware before the start of the journey that the passenger requires assistance to identify or find the vehicle.

“Section 167 is on licensing authorities’ lists of designated wheelchair-accessible taxis and PHVs. As we have heard, local licensing authorities are currently empowered but not required to maintain a list of designated wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles, and I am pleased that 70% in England have chosen to do so. However, that means that almost a third of local licensing authorities are yet to begin to maintain a list of wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles, meaning that wheelchair users in those areas have not benefited from those protections against discrimination otherwise provided under the Equality Act 2010. It is only by appearing on such a list that a taxi or PHV becomes designated as a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, with drivers of those designated vehicles required to fulfil the existing duties in section 165—to accept the carriage of wheelchair users, to provide assistance and to refrain from charging extra. Thanks to the provisions in the Bill, in future the wheelchair-accessible designation will be relevant only with respect to passengers who need to travel while seated in a wheelchair. Nevertheless, it cannot be right for such access to depend on the local policies of individual licensing authorities, and the Bill will ensure that every authority must maintain such a list.

“On proposed new section 167A, section 170 of the Equality Act 2010 places a duty on operators of private hire vehicle services not to refuse a booking because a passenger will be accompanied by an assistance dog, but no equivalent provision exists to protect wheelchair users or people with other disabilities. The Bill would add a new offence for private hire vehicle operators to fail or refuse to accept a booking from any disabled person because of their disability or to charge extra for fulfilling any of the disability-related duties in the relevant sections of the Equality Act.

“Of course we must also consider the needs of the taxi and PHV drivers, who work so hard to provide such a vital service, and I am satisfied that the Bill provides appropriate and sufficient defences to ensure that the duties placed on drivers are reasonable. Defences are in place for cases where a driver could not reasonably have known that a passenger was disabled or required mobility assistance or could not reasonably or safely have carried the passenger, wheelchair or mobility aids. Additionally, the Bill allows medical exemptions from the provision of mobility assistance for drivers who are themselves disabled, as appropriate—a point hon. Members raised earlier. However, it is right that the Bill would remove any exemptions from the broader duties to carry disabled passengers without charging extra for any assistance the driver provides. That is an important improvement to the existing provisions.

“Ultimately, good transport should work for everyone. That is the Government’s aspiration, and I am sure that all Members present today will support it. To support the sector, in 2020 the Government published the REAL disability equality training programme to improve the transport sector’s confidence and skills in delivering inclusive journeys for disabled passengers.

"I once again thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam for his hard work on this important Bill, which the Government firmly believe will make a real difference to disabled people, their comfort and their safety when travelling by taxi or private hire vehicle—in some cases, perhaps even affording disabled passengers the ability and confidence to use services that they would not have previously considered. The Bill represents an important step towards the fully inclusive transport network that the Government and I—and, I am sure, all Members across the House—want to see. We support the Bill, and we wish it well in Committee and as it travels through the House. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend.”

After more than an hour's worth of debate with multiple MPs Jeremy Wright concluded: “I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, including my hon. Friend the Minister, for what they have said. I thank the Opposition spokesman, Mr Dhesi for what he has said, and for his support. I look forward to working with him as the Bill proceeds.

“This Bill, as many of my hon. Friends have said, is not an attack on the very many good and decent drivers who do their best to help people with disabilities; instead, it is designed to make sure that that everyone with a disability, of whatever kind, receives the fair treatment that they are entitled to expect when they seek to travel in such vehicles. I hope that the unanimous support that the Bill has received so far augurs well for its future stages, when I look forward to discussing it further.”


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