A 'mystery shopper' exercise undertaken by Wolverhampton Council to check the standards of hackney carriage and private hire drivers when transporting passengers with disabilities has been hailed a success.
During the scheme, a series of journeys were made in both hackney carriages and private hire vehicles by wheelchair users, people with mobility difficulties and blind or partially-sighted passengers with guide dogs.
Those taking part were also asked to complete a questionnaire relating to issues of safety, accessibility, the driver’s attitude, comparison to other transport facilities and anything they thought was particularly good or bad.
A total of 19 trips were taken by mystery shoppers during the exercise, with 13 of those being in a private hire car and 6 in a hackney carriage taxi.
The results showed that 2 of the hackney carriage taxi drivers failed to secure a wheelchair passenger in the required position for travel. As a result they both attended a hearing and were ordered to complete a wheelchair training and assessment course.
Each mystery shopper volunteer was asked to hail a hackney carriage taxi from a rank to any destination and order a private hire vehicle for the return trip.
Results showed that 87.5 per cent of the mystery shoppers rated the service provided by drivers as good to excellent with 12.5 per cent rating it as average.
Positive comments made in the questionnaire included "driver offered to push me" and "driver offered to stow my bag with wheelchair", while on the negative side one customer said "driver didn’t fold up offside bench seat making it difficult to turn to face rear".
Other figures showed 90 per cent rated the driver’s helpfulness as good to excellent; 88 per cent rated the driver’s efforts to make the vehicle accessible as good to excellent; and 84.5 per cent rated the facilities available during the journey as good to excellent.
Overall 71 per cent rated the service provided by the operator as good to excellent, although one customer stated "didn’t know where Molineux Stadium or Wulfruna Street was, couldn’t offer an estimated time of arrival, difficult to understand". Facilities were rated good to excellent by 79.5 per cent; the necessary steps taken by the driver by 80 per cent and the fleet’s accessibility compared to other forms of public transport by 79 per cent.
Committee members voted unanimously in favour of extending the mystery shopper exercise in the future.