Portsmouth disability campaigners blast 'unacceptable' lack of accessible taxis in the city and wider area
Disability activists say the lack of accessible taxis across the city and the surrounding area is ‘unacceptable’.
Department of Transport figures show that 958 vehicles were licensed to operated in Portsmouth at the end of March – but just 109 could be used by passengers in a wheelchair.
The city had 234 traditional hackney cabs that can be hailed on the street, with only 84 being wheelchair accessible.
For private hire vehicles that need to be booked, just 25 of the city’s 724 vehicles could fully accommodate someone using a wheelchair.
Nationally, one in seven vehicles across England are equipped to accommodate wheelchairs, while Brighton has almost achieved half of all cabs being suitably equipped.
The boroughs surrounding Portsmouth suffer from a similar lack of accessible taxis, as Fareham has only five wheelchair accessible vehicles out of 228 cabs across the area.
In Havant, accessible vehicles make up just 13 of the area’s 535 taxis, while in Gosport the ratio is 24 to 128.
It means a simple trip out can be a ‘nightmare’ for disabled people, according to disability campaigner and former cleaner Steven Kingett who uses a wheelchair due to a neurological condition.
The 56-year-old said he would ‘absolutely not’ count on being able to flag down an accessible taxi in the city – and even booking a taxi can come with a lengthy wait.
Steve, of Moorings Way, Milton, said: ‘It’s the 21st century. We need more accessible taxis.’
He added: ‘Some times you can be there an hour because they can be so busy with other bookings and the traffic in Portsmouth can be terrible.
‘You miss out on going out – you can become a prisoner in your own home.
‘It’s unacceptable in this day and age.’
Geoff Holt, who runs Portsmouth-based project Wetwheels Maritime Adventures, said he has given up even trying to book accessible taxis when planning his day.
Commenting on the low numbers of vehicles, the gold medal winning Paralympic sailor said: ‘It doesn’t surprise me, but that’s not to say it doesn’t frustrate me.
‘Those taxis that do exist, because they are so unique, they will all have contracts with the local authorities for school runs and hospital appointments.’
‘If I asked for a taxi before 10am tomorrow morning, I know I wouldn’t be able to get one.
‘I give up now – I don’t even bother calling a taxi firm because I know I won’t be able to get one.
‘Why should disabled people have to pre-book days in advance, when everyone else treats it as a spontaneous thing?’
But wheelchair users who spoke to The News said they are grateful for any and all services taxi drivers provide, acknowledging the adapted vehicles have a high start-up cost.
Geoff added: ‘I get that it costs a lot of money, and I don’t feel that cost should always be borne by the taxi driver or the taxi company.
‘Maybe there should be money for the cost of the taxi.’
Accessible taxis can cost more than £30,000 and fares remain fixed for all passengers, meaning the provision can be prohibitively expensive for cabbies and firms, according to a representative from Radio Taxis in Fareham.
She said: ‘We don’t have any (accessible vehicles) at the moment – it’s the expense of them.
‘We would love to have one. There were quite a few people who used (the firm’s previous accessible vehicle).
Taxi driver Pete Tyrrell operates Fareham’s lone accessible vehicle that can be hailed from the street – and he says he would love for more accessible cabs to help lighten his busy workload.
The 50-year-old said: ‘I don’t get a day off. I work seven days a week, and it’s pretty much all clients using wheelchairs.
‘I would love for two or three more accessible vehicles in Fareham.’
High costs and perceptions about wheelchair-using passengers constituting more work at no additional income kept many cabbies from switching vehicles, according to the taxi driver of 20 years.
Pete said: ‘I can buy a second-hand taxi for £6,000. I’m looking to upgrade and an accessible vehicle will cost £18,000.
But his busy workload shows the economics can work, he added: ‘Don’t get me wrong – I make a good living.’
Pete is now looking to upgrade his vehicle to be ready for the clean air zone rolling out across Portsmouth, and those elsewhere, and he believes exemptions for accessible vehicles could encourage their use.
He said: ‘I’ve got a perfectly good vehicle here, and I’ve got to change it because of all the clean air zones.’
The National Private Hire and Taxi Association said wheelchair-accessible vehicles do suffer from higher emissions and higher running costs.
Steven Toy, NPHTA board member, said: ‘With the increase in the number of journeys being taken by peer-to-peer apps, there are fewer journeys by hackney carriage.
‘That itself dissuades people from investing in a vehicle when they see their trade falling on the whole.’
The government hopes to help alleviate the situation through its National Disability Strategy, which will strengthen laws to ensure disabled people are treated fairly by taxi drivers, according to a Department for Transport spokeswoman.
She said: ‘All councils should be using existing powers to provide enough wheelchair accessible vehicles and ensuring all drivers are trained to support every disabled passenger.’
But licensing could only go so far when the problem was compounded by falling numbers of taxi drivers, according to Portsmouth City Councillor Scott Payter-Harris, who is vice-chair of the council’s licensing committee.
As reported, close to 280 taxi drivers in the city have ditched the trade in the last year.
Cllr Payter-Harris said: ‘It is having a contributing factor, although we are starting to see them come back slowly. Getting a taxi wasn’t as easy as it once was.’