Limited wheelchair accessible taxis or private hire vehicles in Bedford

Charity says many disabled people feel anxious on public transport – with the pandemic only exacerbating this

By Patrick Jack
Thursday, 9th September 2021, 12:15 pm

More than four in five taxis and private hire vehicles in Bedford cannot be used by people in wheelchairs, figures reveal.

With just one in seven vehicles across England and Wales suitably equipped, disability charity Scope said everyday inequality is rife.

Department for Transport (DfT) figures show 533 vehicles were licensed to operate in Bedford at the end of March – but just 86 (16 per cent) could be used by those in wheelchairs.

More than four in five taxis and private hire vehicles in Bedford cannot be used by people in wheelchairs

Of the 63 traditional taxis which can be hailed from the street, all were wheelchair accessible.

But just 23 (5 per cent) of the area's 470 private hire vehicles, which need to be pre-booked, offered the same service.

Across England, just 2 per cent of private hire vehicles, such as those available through Uber, can fit a wheelchair in them.

Though the proportion of taxis or hackney carriages which can do the same is much higher, it fell from 57 per cent to 54 per cent over the last year.

Scope said four-fifths of disabled people feel anxious on public transport – with the coronavirus pandemic only exacerbating this – leaving many reliant on taxis and PHVs.

Tom Marsland, policy manager for consumer affairs at the charity, said: "When these aren't accessible disabled people are robbed of their independence.

"Consistent regulation and enforcement across all transport authorities in England and Wales would help hold drivers and taxi organisations accountable for their accessibility, and improve disabled people's trust in the system."

The DfT figures also show that the majority of local authorities across England and Wales do not require disability awareness training for taxi or private hire drivers.

In Bedford, drivers for neither vehicle type have to do this training.

The National Private Hire and Taxi Association said wheelchair accessible vehicles are expensive to buy and run, and their higher emissions are worse for the environment.

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."

He added that for every WAV request, there are likely to be 10 or more for a low vehicle – favoured by older people who struggle to get into higher vehicles – so all disabilities should be taken into consideration.

A DfT spokeswoman said: “Our National Disability Strategy will drive forward new laws to ensure disabled people get the right help in taxis and private hire vehicles.

“All councils should be using existing powers to provide enough wheelchair accessible vehicles and ensuring all drivers are trained to support every disabled passenger.”