DISCRIMINATION rules for taxis will be updated to criminalise drivers refusing to take wheelchair users after it was revealed the only enforceable legislation was last set in 1847.
At a meeting yesterday council staff voiced their frustration that some disabled residents in the city were being refused rides in taxis partly due to the ‘vagueness’ of the outdated Town and Police Clauses Act set more than 150 years ago.
As part of Portsmouth City Council’s new equality and diversity strategy it was decided that an additional guideline, known as a section 167, would be implemented to make this law easier to uphold.
Licensing manager Nikkii Humphreys said: ‘We do get complaints sometimes that drivers have refused to carry passengers in wheelchairs.
‘We can take action in those cases and can sanction them. Under the 1847 act we can take them to court and fine them up to £1,000.
‘But the act doesn’t specify wheelchair users and other disabilities. By adopting the section 167 it just gives more weight to prosecute.’
Gina Perryman, an access and equalities adviser, agreed. She added: ‘One of the issues we do have is people getting taxis in the evening. The drivers say by the time it takes them to get in the taxi they could’ve got seven people in there.
‘There’s also a problem that sometimes they refuse people with guide dogs. We want to raise awareness in the public that if they see someone being refused with a dog they can take down the licence number for them.’
Section 167, which comes under the 2010 Equality Act, obliges taxi drivers by law to transport wheelchair users in their wheelchair, provide them with appropriate assistance and charge them fairly.
In comparison the 1847 law states that hackney drivers cannot turn customers away ‘without reasonable excuse’ or face a fine.
Enable Activity, a Portsmouth-based disability charity had been lobbying the council to impose the section 167, since last year.
Charity trustee Ken Bowen said: ‘Anything that can help in this way is welcomed.
‘Taxis are a lifeline for some disabled people in Portsmouth as public transport is not always an option.’
Fellow trustee Jon Muller added: ‘It will make a huge difference to people who want to engage in activities in their neighbourhoods and further afield, promote their independence, reduce isolation and encourage inclusion.’
Some taxi drivers can be exempt from the rules if health conditions would prevent them helping wheelchair users.