I previously wrote about the Government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy that sets out its vision for improved accessibility in, amongst others, the taxi and private hire sector.
The strategy stated that the Government will: “In particular…recommend that authorities require taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) drivers to complete disability awareness and equality training…”
The Parliamentary Under Secretary of Transport, Nusrat Ghani MP, has now written to all licensing authorities. In the letter she said: “I also wanted to write to you about the accessibility of any taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) services which your authority may be responsible for licensing. Such services play a vital role in helping disabled people to remain independent and to complete door-to-door journeys, yet all too often they are inaccessible to those who rely upon them. I want all licensing authorities to play their part in ensuring that the taxi and PHV services they support meet the needs of passengers wishing to use them, including … requiring all taxi and PHV drivers to complete disability awareness training.”
There is no suggestion in either the letter or the strategy that the Government will be seeking to legislate on the matter. It has however stated in the strategy that the Government will, by end of 2019, publish for consultation a revised best practice guidance to support local licensing authorities “…to use their existing powers more effectively”. It is certain that the Government will include a recommendation in the forthcoming best practice guidance that local authorities introduce mandatory requirement for all its licensed drivers to undertake disability awareness training.
The Department for Transport’s best practice guidance is non-statutory guidance which means that licensing authorities do not strictly have to comply with the guidance. It technically therefore will depend on individual licensing authorities to decide if, and how, they will pursue mandatory disability awareness training in their local area.
There is however a strong expectation by the Government – and the courts - that licensing authorities do follow the best practice guidance and only deviate in exceptional circumstances. The Department for Transport may intervene formally if licensing authorities do not adopt mandatory disability awareness training policies to a level expected by it.
On balance, it is likely that most local authorities will adopt some form of mandatory disability awareness training for the drivers licensed by it over the course of the next 12 to 24 months. The cost of providing such training will, directly or indirectly (thought increased licence fees), be paid for by licence holders.