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A new change in the law means that from 6 April 2017, it will be illegal for taxi drivers to discriminate against disabled taxi users, the Department for Transport has announced.
Under the new legislation, drivers could lose their licence and face a fine of up to £1,000 if they refuse to provide wheelchair users with appropriate assistance or attempt to charge more than non-wheelchair users.
Transport Minister Andrew Jones said: “We want to build a country that works for everyone, and part of that is ensuring disabled people have the same access to services and opportunities as anyone else – including when it comes to travel.
“People who use wheelchairs are often heavily reliant on taxis and private hire vehicles and this change to the law will mean fair and equal treatment for all.”
Current legislation prevents taxi drivers from discriminating against passengers with assistance dogs and the Department for Transport hopes that the new rules will complement this.
The changes will apply to both taxis and private hire vehicles that are designated as wheelchair accessible in England, Wales and Scotland.
Robert Meadowcroft, chief executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “This is a victory for all people with disabilities who experience daily struggles with accessible transport.
“Being able to get from A to B is usually very easy for most people, however we know that this can be a challenge that affects a disabled person’s entire life, including their ability to have a job and play an active part in society.
“This is a positive and very welcome step in the right direction which we hope will not affect the number of accessible taxis being made available by companies because of the duties now being placed on to drivers.
“Muscular Dystrophy UK and our Trailblazers have been campaigning on this issue for many years, and we commend the government for listening to the views of disabled people.”
The new rules underline the Government’s wide-ranging commitment to supporting transport networks which work for everyone, while a draft ‘Accessibility action plan’, which will be consulted on later this year, seeks to address the barriers faced by disabled people in accessing all modes of public transport.
Drivers unable to offer assistance to wheelchair users for medical reasons will be able to apply to their licensing authority for an exemption to the new requirements, which will come into force on 6 April 2017.
Peter Jenkins, campaigns director for Leonard Cheshire Disability, described the announcement as a “victory” for disabled people.
He said: “Wheelchair users are all too familiar with being discriminated against. Today’s legislation has been a long time in coming but we celebrate its arrival. This is a victory for all disabled people.
“What we need now is to see all staff working in public transport, including taxi drivers, to undergo robust, regular disability equality training, led by disabled people, as part of their induction and ongoing development.
“Breaking down misconceptions is just as important as legislation for disabled people to receive the same freedoms as everyone else.”