Highland taxi and private hire drivers could soon face criminal charges for refusing to take wheelchair users under new proposals being considered by licensing council members.
The council is now in discussions over having a designated list of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAV's) which would mean drivers could face criminal charges if passengers reported them to police for a refusal.
The 2010 Act does not make it mandatory that all taxis and PHC’s are wheelchair accessible. However, section 167 of the 2010 Act, permits but does not require, licensing authorities to maintain a list of all WAV's that are licensed to operate within their area.
These vehicles are known as “designated” vehicles.
The minimum requirement for the vehicle to be on the list is that it is able to carry the wheelchair user whilst seated in their wheelchair.
Consequences of publishing a designated list of WAV’s is that section 165 of the 2010 Act imposes statutory duties on the drivers of these designated vehicles, and failure to comply with these duties is an offence (unless exempt) liable to a fine of up to £1000.
The statutory duties are:
• To carry the passenger while in the wheelchair.
• Not to make any additional charge for doing so.
• If the passenger chooses to sit in a passenger seat, to carry the wheelchair.
• To take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the passenger is carried in safety and reasonable comfort.
• To give the passenger such mobility assistance as is reasonably required.
With regards to the final point, mobility assistance is defined as assistance:
• To enable the passenger to get into or out of the vehicle.
• If the passenger wishes to remain in the wheelchair, to enable the passenger to get into and out of the vehicle while in the wheelchair.
• To load the passenger’s luggage into or out of the vehicle.
• If the passenger does not wish to remain in the wheelchair, to load the wheelchair into or out of the vehicle.
Drivers of WAV’s can apply to the Council for exemption from complying with these duties but can only do so on medical grounds or grounds of physical difficulty.
Section 172 of the 2010 Act enables vehicle owners to appeal against the decision of a licensing authority to include their vehicles on the designated list. The right of appeal is to the Sheriff Court and must be made within 28 days of the vehicle in question being included on the published list.
If a driver receives a conviction for breaching their duties under section 165 of the Act, it would be appropriate for the Council to review whether or not the driver remained a fit and proper person to hold a taxi or PHC driver's licence.
By publishing a designated list, firstly, this makes the failure of driver to comply with the abovementioned statutory duties a criminal offence.
Wheelchair users can report discrimination based on these duties to the police as a criminal offence. As the council doesn’t currently maintain and publish a designated list of WAV’s, an offence would not be committed under this piece of legislation.
Currently, if a wheelchair user feels that they have been discriminated against, they would have to raise a civil court action themselves against the driver.
That is a lengthy and expensive process that puts many people off seeking legal redress for their rights being breached.
Secondly, it allows wheelchair users to see what WAV availability there is in their area.
This will assist the public in being able to find out from a central list what provision there is for their needs in their locality.
Image credit: TaxiPoint