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Hi all,

After reading Carrie-Anns blog which included access to taxis, i thought you would be also interested in my recent dealings with one of the main taxi companies in Weston-Super-Mare.

Please see my email i sent regarding being charged time and a half for a recent journey.

Dear Sir/Madam

I wish to complain about the extra charge made to my taxi home early on the morning of the 15th of July 2011. According to your company you charge time and a half for wheelchair users to use your taxis. I use a powered wheelchair. Please could you explain the reason for this. Even though all your driver did was to fold out a ramp, i went up it and he folded it back. same happened when leaving the vehicle.

Considering I’m unable to book a taxi from your company normally after 6 pm i was actually surprised i was even able to book a taxi. Please could you tell me your policy for wheelchair users with regards accessing any of your taxis. I’ve also asked to book a taxi a week before needing it and was told that i should ring on the night to find out if a taxi was available. This was totally unacceptable due to the fact that i had to book the taxi that night to guarantee i could get to where I was going.

I felt tonight that your company put me at a substantial disadvantage with regards accessing your taxi by charging me extra money which I didn’t have just because of your policy of charging time and a half for wheelchairs.

Who else do you charge extra for using your service and why? I have also sent a copy of this email to my Mp John Penrose, the disability access officer for North Somerset Council Anthony Rylands, my national charity and the licensing department for taxis for North Somerset Council. When i did ring back your company to find out why i was charge extra, apparently its nothing to do with North Somerset Council so can charge what you like.

Pleae could you explain your policy for disabled passengers who use your service?

yours sincerely

Steve Ledbrook

I did get a very quick response the day after and this is the detailed response i received. Incidentally the taxi did not use any restraints to safely let me travel in the vehicle.

Hi Steve,

I fully understand why you are frustrated and can see why you might think that you were unfairly penalised. Although the pricing structure is different for wheelchair users, it is not in place to discriminate; rather, it is to make it economically viable for self-employed taxi drivers. Let me just explain why.

Generally, private-hire taxi operators choose to use self-employed taxi drivers, in part, because they are then not responsible for purchasing the vehicles and are much better placed to scale up/down the fleet as and when demand changes. The problem, however, is that this means these drivers have a choice about which vehicle they want to purchase (providing, of course, it meets the requirements laid down by the Council). Because of the specialist nature of wheelchair vehicles, manufacturers nearly always charge a lot more for wheelchair accessible vehicles than they do for normal saloon or estate vehicles. If the driver, for example, knew that the wheelchair rates are exactly the same as the saloon/estate rates, it would be reasonable for him/her to think that he/she would get a much better return on their investment by purchasing a saloon vehicle as the capital outlay would be far less. As they are self-employed, we have no right to tell them which vehicle they must use. And, as much as I hate to say this, if we, as a private-hire taxi operator, told them they had to purchase a wheelchair accessible vehicle, we would be out of business very quickly as they would go and work for another company that did not have such a policy.

Although I do not know the full details of the conversation you had with our Telephonist, I can say that, based on your e-mail, the advice given was sound. First, the Council does not stipulate the rates private hire taxi operators must use. However, they do stipulate, as far as I know, that the rate must be lower than the Hackney carriage rate – and ours is much lower than that. Second, self-employed taxi drivers, by the very nature of their employment relationship, are able to decide when they want to work and when they don’t. For saloon vehicles this is not such a problem as we have a lot of them, so if one driver decides to have a day off, we have enough vehicles to cover the workload. However, as a result of the cost of wheelchair vehicles and the fact that only a few drivers are willing to buy them, our availability is much more restricted. Therefore, if a driver decides to not come in, the impact can be far more significant. I would never want to have a customer book a wheelchair taxi to then find out that their taxi is not going to arrive and then have to seek alternative transport at short notice. The policy, in essence, was implemented in order to safeguard both the company and the customer from this sort of problem.

It is not only wheelchair users that are charged extra. We also charge fare and a half for MPVs and also £5 extra for estate vehicles. Again, this is because these vehicles cost more to purchase (and consume more fuel) then saloon vehicles. The policy is fairly universal. For example, Woodspring Taxis, another taxi company in Weston-Super-Mare, charges extra for wheelchair vehicles, MPVs and, I think, estates for the same reasons I have mentioned. Also many companies across the United Kingdom in areas where the Council have not intervened also have such a pricing policy.

As a private-hire operator, we have two choices. First, we can continue as we are by charging fare and a half for wheelchair vehicles. The advantage of this is we can ensure that we have wheelchair vehicles on our fleet and can provide wheelchair users with transport. The disadvantage, however, is that there are going to be some situations where wheelchair users may feel discriminated against as they are paying more than people wanting a saloon vehicle. Second, we can bring our fares down to normal fare. The advantage of this is it eliminates the problem of wheelchair users feeling discriminated against. The disadvantage, however, is that we run a very serious risk of having no wheelchair vehicles at all and being in a situation where we are unable to provide wheelchair users with any transport at all. As a socially responsible company, we firmly believe the first choice, while understandably not without its criticisms, is far more sound as it would be ethically irresponsible of us to not have any provision in place for wheelchair users to access our service.

The only solution, I feel, is for the Council to implement a policy whereby all taxi drivers in the North Somerset district must use a vehicle that is wheelchair accessible. This policy has, as far as I know, been implemented in several of the larger cities, such as Bristol. Another solution, although I personally feel this one would be a disaster, is to implement a policy whereby all private-hire taxi operators must charge no extra for wheelchair users. The problem with this is there would be no (or hardly any) wheelchair accessible vehicles available as hardly any taxi drivers are going to want to purchase a wheelchair accessible vehicle as a result of the capital outlay, particularly when their revenue will not increase.

I hope my e-mail has shed some light on our pricing policy and the reasoning behind it. I do, however, feel your frustration and if I can help in any way I would be more than happy to. For example, I could speak to the Council about this problem and the need for a policy to be implemented to counteract situations like this.

I have CC’d Caz Horton, the Licensing Officer at North Somerset Council, as I imagine she would have been notified about your complaint and would want to know what our response is/action taken.

General Manager

Apple Central Taxis Ltd

I also then received the following email from Caz Horton the licensing officer at North Somerset Council.

Dear Mr Ledbrook

Thank you for your email, I have received a copy of the email sent to you from Danny Rowe of Apple central, under legislation the local Authority has no power to set fares for private hire. I can confirm that we do not stipulate in any of the Local Authorities policies that the Private hire companies must be cheaper than the hackney carriages.

Please do not hesitate to contact

Caz Horton
Licensing Officer

So what do people think of this and what are your views with regards my response from the the taxi company. I personally think all the taxis in my area should be metered therefore everyone would be charged the same. I bet the company would not charge time and a half if the driver had to get out to put 5 heavy bags of shopping in their boot or put a folded down pushchair into the boot. The driver only had to get out of his cab open the door, pull out the ramp and shut door behind me. I wasnt even required to put a seatbelt on. The licensing officer will be in touch with me to discuss this matter.

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