Government minister intervenes after St Albans woman complains of taxi disability discrimination

Jennie Page outside the Clock Tower

Jennie Page outside the Clock Tower - Credit: Archant

Anger at being abandoned at the side of the road by a taxi driver, because of her disability, has spurred a 65 year old to complain to the government about her shoddy treatment.

And the disappointed minister responsible for transport accessibility has responded by saying that he had “hoped that the days of wheelchair users being left at the kerbside were long gone”.

He has put such drivers on notice that the government intends imposing a statutory requirement to accept and assist wheelchair users, giving disabled people the right to travel by taxi on an equal basis.

In April, the Herts Advertiser carried a story on the plight of Jennie Page, who had looking forward to seeing a performance at the Abbey Theatre, and booked a taxi in advance of the show.

Although a vehicle was dispatched by Gold Line Taxis in St Albans, and the driver lowered the ramp, he suddenly drove off without explanation upon learning that Jennie would not be travelling with a carer.

The firm later apologised, and explained that the driver was not ‘comfortable’ taking Jennie without a carer.

But, left “distressed and appalled” in her wheelchair on the footpath in Verulam Road, the fiercely independent Jennie took issue with the taxi driver’s rejection, and complained to St Albans MP Anne Main.

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In a letter on her behalf, the politician wrote of her disappointment at Jennie’s experience, pointing out that “taxis are legally obliged to take wheelchair users if their vehicle allows them to, and the driver is not specifically exempt from doing so.”

She asked for a clarification of the law, to help those in wheelchairs avoid having a similar ‘distressing experience’.

On May 24, Andrew Jones, the Minister responsible for transport accessibility, confirmed that taxi and public hire vehicles (PHV) already had a duty not to discriminate against disabled passengers.

Mr Jones said he was ‘sorry’ to hear of Jennie’s experience, adding, “I know that for many disabled people taxis and private hire vehicles play an essential role in helping them to remain independent.”

The minister said he ‘expected’ transport operators and authorities to “play their part in removing barriers that still make travelling difficult for some people”.

He said that as “unfortunately such cases of discrimination are not unique”, he is pushing ahead with activating Sections 165 and 167 of the Equality Act 2010, which makes it a criminal offence for drivers of wheelchair accessible taxis and PHVs to refuse to help wheelchair users, or to charge them extra.

Mr Jones said the only exception would be those drivers who held a medical exemption certificate, “and I expect the new rules to have a significant impact on the ability of wheelchair users to take a taxi when and where they want to.”

Anne said: “I think it is very encouraging to see that, at long last, the minister will be implementing this legislation. It was originally intended to protect vulnerable people like Ms Page. I have no doubt that her firm stance on this issue has helped to highlight the need to bring fairness to mobility.”

Jennie said: “I’m very pleased that nationally, things are moving on. Taxi drivers have had carte blanche, and it is time that this anomaly was tightened up.”