Taxi drivers face legal duty to carry wheelchair users
Taxis are to be given a legal duty to carry wheelchair-using passengers - 20 years after the law was first approved by Parliament.
Transport Minister Andrew Jones said he aimed to implement anti-discrimination measures by the end of the year after bowing to pressure to end two decades of inaction.
The move came hours before the publication of a House of Lords report about disability which was expected to strongly criticise his failure to commit to the measure.
Rights for guide dog and wheelchair users not to be refused access to taxis and other private hire vehicles were first put into legislation in the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.
But only the guide dog sections were ever brought into force, despite the wheelchair provisions being included in the Equality Act of 2010.
They say a taxi must carry a passenger in their chair at no extra charge and "take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the passenger is carried in safety and reasonable comfort".
Drivers must also transport the wheelchair if the passenger wants to travel in a passenger seat and " give the passenger such mobility assistance as is reasonably required".
In evidence to the Lords committee examining the impact of the Equality Act on disabled people, Mr Jones had declined to commit to the move.
He said the Government wanted to avoid unnecessary regulation on business and "need to consider whether there are alternative ways of improving driver behaviour and the service the public receives before implementing legislation" but that he was " quite supportive of the basic principle".
The committee found his reasoning "entirely unconvincing".
The move will be welcomed by disability campaigners but doubts will remain about the enforcement of the rules as many guide dog owners complain that they are still refused by some drivers.
Mr Jones said: "Everyone has the right to access public transport. We have made progress but there is a long way to go before there is equal access.
"We are in the process of strengthening the law, placing a clear duty on taxi drivers to assist passengers with wheelchairs and making it a criminal offence to charge them extra.
"We are also working with transport operators to improve access to buses and train stations across the country and will continue to work with disability groups and local authorities as we make further improvements."
Baroness Deech, who chaired the committee that examined the Act, said: "I am very pleased that the imminent issue of our report, in which they must have realised they were going to be severely criticised, has jolted them into action.
"But I will only be satisfied when I see it actually happen.
"Our report says that taxi drivers should be trained and that local authorities should not give them licences unless they comply with the terms of the Equality Act.
"If they breach it they should be sanctioned."