Emma Vogelmann was recently interviewed on Radio 4’s You and Yours consumer programme about being charged extra by taxi drivers simply because she’s a wheelchair user. In this blog, she talks about her experiences.
I am forever saying how amazing it is that all black cabs in London have a pull-out ramp meaning that any wheelchair user can use them. This makes getting around London easy (albeit sometimes expensive) for wheelchair users seeing as many underground stations are still inaccessible.
The only issue I have faced before using black cabs has been drivers telling me they do not know how to use the ramps, even though I have been told by many drivers they are trained in using them. Therefore my PA ends up doing it for them.
I went into London recently and as usual I went to the taxi rank at King’s Cross Station. What was unusual, however, was that the driver started the meter before I got into the cab.
This means he was charging me for getting the ramp out and for my PA to push my electric wheelchair into his cab, or in other words, he was charging me extra because of my disability.
Before anyone tries to tell me that he was in his right to do this, I contacted the Public Carriage Office which is the authority for black cabs and they told me the driver was not allowed to do this and he was only allowed to start the meter once I was in the car.
When my PA and I tried to mention this to the driver he became extremely argumentative and hostile towards us. This was a scary experience for me as although it was not the first time I have felt like my disability was an inconvenience for transport staff, it was the first time I had been yelled at for demanding to be treated in the same way as an able-bodied customer.
He sarcastically said he would knock 20p off the total fare (which is less than the extra cost). He couldn’t understand that it was unfair to charge me more than an able-bodied person because I required him to unfold the ramp for me to use the cab.
We told him we would get another cab and the person behind us in the queue could go in front so he wasn’t losing out on a customer. He then went to the driver of the next cab to tell him why we were ‘refusing’ him which made me feel uncomfortable. However, I was thankful he took the other customer and that I could get another cab and reach my destination without any further problems; I wish this had been the case.
We got in the next cab and he started the meter once we were loaded in, so far so good. We then stopped at a traffic light with another black cab in the lane next to us, that driver rolled down his window to speak to our driver to ask what had just happened.
The two drivers then began saying how the driver who started the meter was right to do so and that we had argued with him and how we had acted, in their view, unreasonably. They were having this discussion while my PA and I were in the cab and we could hear every word our driver was saying.
Did they not understand that it is unfair to charge a person with a disability more than someone who doesn’t have a disability and the law actually forbids it under the Equality Act 2010?
I cannot tell you how uncomfortable and upset I felt at this humiliating and degrading treatment and how much I wanted to get out of his cab.
I felt trapped and as I knew he could hear me just as easily as I could hear him, I was too scared to tell my PA how upset I was. I had to feel that way for the entire journey and honestly 25 minutes has never felt as long as it did then.
We finally reached our destination and when we got out of the cab I was nearly in tears. I don’t say that so that people will feel sorry for me, I say it because I want people to understand the impact this type of treatment has on a person with a disability.
People with disabilities are constantly made to feel like a problem and a burden when we use public transport because we need to ask for help. So often staff make us feel like they are reluctantly granting us a huge favour by laying down a ramp.
Do they think we are acting like a prima donna demanding a red carpet because we can’t possibly touch concrete like everyone else? Why do they not understand that having to use a ramp was a small inconvenience that they had to endure for all of one minute of their day, and that my disability is a constant challenge for me?
These may seem like obvious questions if you have a disability or know someone who does, and therefore know that these situations happen every day.
But this article isn’t for you, you’re already on my side. It’s for the people who think the driver was right to charge me extra and for the people who think it is okay for my driver to say what he did about me and my PA while I was in the car.
To those people, I ask that you consider how I was made to feel vulnerable and humiliated just because I have a disability and that this is not okay.
Emma has reported the taxi drivers to the Public Carriage Office. To listen to her Radio 4 interview, visit the BBC website.