By Una Murphy
People with disabilities are “living under curfew’ due to problems accessing taxis in Northern Ireland, according to Disability Action. Wheelchairs users have been telling VIEWdigital about the challenges they face trying to book a private taxi.
Demot Devlin, who set up My Way Access, www.mywayaccess.com/ a disability campaign group, said: “Speaking to other disabled people, we all feel that people think that we have no social life after 5pm. After work and after the shops shut for the day, we all return to our homes and have an early night. That’s not true, we want to go out to cinemas, pubs, concerts. Until we can get taxis at the times we need and not just before 5pm, then our social lives are somewhat restricted.”
Patricia (not her real name), a wheelchair user with MS, said: “I felt very isolated when I realised I couldn’t get a disabled taxi when I wanted one.
“I know even able-bodied people have more difficulty than they used to getting taxis but how can it be right that someone – booking nine days ahead – cannot get a taxi for multiple outings over a three-day period (when I had guests staying). The taxi firms I tried didn’t even ask where I wanted to go – it was a No.”
Dermot, who is from Co. Tyrone, told VIEWdigital that he had a bad experience in Belfast, when he’d travelled to attend a rock concert in the city, a few years ago. “I booked an accessible taxi for after the concert to take me back to the hotel. The taxi did not show up to collect me. Eventually I got through to them and was informed that they had a “better” run and no-one would collect me.”
Patricia, from Co. Down, said the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), which stops people with a disability being discriminated against when seeking goods, facilities or services – including transport – needs to be enforced. “The DDA isn’t optional – it’s the law. I am entitled to a taxi the same as someone who is not in a wheelchair.”
Nuala Toman, head of policy at the charity, Disability Action said: “The number of wheelchair accessible taxis continues to fall across Northern Ireland. This is resulting in disabled people living under curfew”.
She added: “Urgent action is required to ensure that disabled people have access to transport on equal basis with others. This requires investment and legislative change. There is no time to wait.
“Research conducted by Disability Action on behalf of the Equality Commission demonstrates that eight out of 10 disabled people feel that transport is not accessible to them.
“Legislation has been enacted in other parts of the UK which place duties on taxi drivers and PHV drivers and operators giving disabled people specific rights and protections to be transported and receive assistance when using a taxi or PHV without being charged extra.”
Michael Lorimer, a spokesman for the advisory body Imtac (the Inclusive Mobility and Transport Advisory Committee), which includes people who are disabled, said that they have highlighted “the need for urgent action to ensure disabled people can access what are vital services” It has become more difficult for many disabled people, older people and people in rural areas to access a suitable taxi service, he added.
Richard Williams, head of transport at the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, said civil servants could take action now, using existing powers: “More can be done to ensure that wheelchair users don’t face difficulties in getting a taxi. For example, in our response to the Taxi Fare Increase Public Consultation last year we called on the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to use existing powers under the Taxis Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 to link the provision of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles to operator licensing.”
Civil servants at the DfI have stated that they are committed to “working with and helping the taxi industry address the range of issues that it faces.”
One issue flagged up by the Northern Ireland Licensed Taxi Operators Association (LTOA) which represents a group of mainly large private hire taxi operators in Northern Ireland is the difficulty in getting new drivers through the licensing process. The Consumer Council has said the current driver licence application process may be too complex, with a pass rate of only 24 per cent in 2020.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland said that the provision of taxi services to people with disabilities is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act and the Disability Transport Regulations 2009 and they urge anyone who believes they have experienced unlawful discrimination to contact our discrimination advice team at 028 90 500 600 or email email@example.com
“In the continued absence of comprehensive single equality legislation in Northern Ireland, the Commission has called for urgent changes to the disability equality legislation in Northern Ireland. These changes are aimed at addressing inconsistencies within the disability equality legislation and strengthening the rights of disabled people, including transport users. It is also vital that an incoming Executive prioritise the introduction of an effective Disability Strategy, which should include measures to strengthen anti-discrimination legislation,” a spokeswoman said.