Taxi drivers face a fine of up to £1,000 if they refuse to transport wheelchair users or attempt to charge them extra, in a change to the law announced by Transport Minister Andrew Jones.
Taxi and private hire vehicle drivers are now obliged by law to:
Drivers may also face having their taxi or private hire vehicle (PHV) licence suspended or revoked by their licencing authority. Drivers unable to provide assistance for medical reasons will be able to apply to their licensing authority for an exemption from the new requirements.
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.
“The new rules apply in England, Wales and Scotland affecting vehicles that are designated as wheelchair accessible and will apply to both taxis and private hire vehicles. All taxis in London and a significant number in most major urban centres are wheelchair accessible.”
Leonard Cheshire Disability campaigns director Peter Jenkins welcomed the news as a “victory for all disabled people”, but added: “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.”
Bus companies must end 'first come, first served' policies, and do more to give priority to wheelchair users following a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
The case of Paulley vs FirstGroup plc, backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, will mean wheelchair users should be given priority for wheelchair spaces on buses. Bus companies should have clear policies in place and give training to drivers to remove the barriers wheelchair users face when using buses.
Equality and Human Rights Commission Chair, David Isaac, called the verdict "a victory for disabled people's rights" and "a hugely important decision, which has helped clarify the current state of the law, and will give confidence to thousands of disabled people in Britain to use public transport".
The case centred on whether a 'first come, first served' policy was discriminatory against wheelchair users, or if bus companies could do more to ensure wheelchair spaces on buses are vacated when a wheelchair user enters the bus.
In February 2012, Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user, tried to board a FirstGroup bus from Wetherby to Leeds. The wheelchair space was being used by a mother with a pushchair and a sleeping child. She refused the driver's request to move or fold the pushchair and so the driver told Mr Paulley he could not board the bus.
Mr Paulley successfully sued FirstGroup at Leeds County Court for unlawful discrimination against him due to his disability, but this was later overturned on appeal. The case was then heard by the Supreme Court.
David Isaac added "Public transport is essential for disabled people to live independently, yet bus companies have not made it easy for this to happen. This is a victory for disabled people's rights. The success of this case means bus companies will have to end 'first come, first served' polices, increasing peace of mind for disabled people.
"This has been about correcting a confusing policy which has caused untold problems for disabled people.
"For years, wheelchair users have been deterred from using vital public transport links because they could not be sure they will be able to get on. Today’s judgment will make that easier."