The last thing you want during your first week at a new job is to have to ring to say you’re going to be late because you had to call the police about a taxi driver. This is exactly what happened to me when I started working at Muscular Dystrophy UK!
A driver attempted to overcharge me for the time to get my wheelchair secured in the cab, which my PA asked him not to do, knowing that the Equality Act 2010 now forbids this.
From there the incident escalated to the point where my PA had to ring 999 because the driver physically prevented us from leaving the taxi rank at King’s Cross Station in another cab. To cut a long story short, we reported the driver to Transport for London (TfL), which eventually led us to the giving evidence at the Magistrates Court in what was the first case to be brought under the Equality Act since the rules applied to taxi drivers in April 2017.
The process of reporting the driver and attending court was not as daunting as it may sound. I wrote down the taxi number of the cab as it is displayed at the back of the cab and a complaint was then made to TfL. A couple of weeks later they arranged for someone to come to the office to take an official statement from me and they took my PA’s statement over the phone. This was an easy process; I just told them what I could remember and how I felt when the driver compared securing my wheelchair in his cab to someone loading suitcases into the cab. My PA very kindly brought to his attention that I was not a suitcase and I didn’t have a choice of bringing my wheelchair.
TfL kept us informed of every step of the way while they prosecuted the taxi driver. After he entered a plea of not guilty I was asked to let TfL know of any dates I was unable to attend court which was great as I could work around any doctor’s appointments. They assured me that a wheelchair accessible courtroom was booked and the day came for us to attend court to give evidence. The lawyers from TfL explained how things would run and just to answer everything as best as I could – the incident was six months ago at that point so I refreshed myself on what happened by re-reading my statement.
The questioning by both TfL’s lawyer and the driver’s lawyers was largely what I expected. TfL’s lawyer asked me “what happened?” and the driver’s lawyer tried to create a defence that he didn’t know about the law change. This isn’t to say I wasn’t nervous because I was, but I knew that I was in the right because of all the work I have done with MDUK on this issue and because I am a law graduate. (This driver really chose the wrong person to try and overcharge!)
The Magistrates agreed that the driver had an obligation to remain up-to-date on the laws that govern their trade and he did intend to overcharge me by refusing to turn the meter off until I was secured. This is a huge victory for wheelchair users or any disabled person who takes time to get in and out of taxis. It creates a precedent for future cases brought by wheelchair users who refuse to accept that we should be charged for time to get in and out of taxis which we do not have a choice of.
If anyone reading this has ever been overcharged but were too scared to say something to the driver, that is okay. In future just know that you can write down the cab number and report them afterwards, and know that it is unacceptable to be charged for the time it takes to get in and secured.