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Lord Rochester: My Lords, I support the amendment. One may ask: what is the point of making all licensed taxis in England and Wales fully accessible to wheelchairs if they cannot then be guaranteed free access to bus termini, railway stations and airports, all of which are major delivery points for wheelchair bound people? I hope that on this occasion the Government will look more sympathetically on the amendment than they have done at earlier stages of the Bill.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, said, it is a serious loophole. As the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said, it seems a great pity if after all the splendid amendments that we have discussed we do not ensure that wheelchair accessible taxis are available at termini. It is the one hiccup in what could eventually be a completely trouble-free journey on other forms of transport for someone in a wheelchair. I thoroughly support the amendment.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I wish to ask the Minister a question. If there are no wheelchair-accessible taxis for people using wheelchairs at places such as Gatwick Airport, would that not be discrimination against disabled people now that such taxis are available?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I can see that your Lordships very much appreciate the aim of the amendment. It is clearly not in the interests of disabled people, particularly those in wheelchairs, to arrive at a station, airport or seaport and then find that they can go no further without a long wait or without other problems in obtaining suitable transport.
Equally, I emphasise that it is very much in the interests of the owner of the facility or those who provide public transport to or from it to provide for disabled people. I have said it before: one thing that we must ensure in addition to the legislation is that we change the cultureand we hope that the legislation will helpso that it is the automatic response of a transport facility owner or operator to ensure that adequate, accessible transport is provided for all passengers' needs.
At the Report stage we heard a great deal about Gatwick. I have looked into the situation there and passengers are normally provided with a saloon car or an estate car. Anyone wishing to travel in a wheelchair can have a suitable vehicle provided, either a taxi sent from Crawley or a vehicle from a specialised firm with premises on the perimeter of the airport.
In practice, people who use wheelchairs do not fly into Gatwick totally unannounced, any more than anyone else does. Therefore, arrangements can be made for them in advance. Gatwick is by no means unique in that regard, although the reason is different from other airports. For example, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Birminghamthrough which I flew the other dayare not in the licensing area of the city. The city may have wheelchair-accessible taxis, but the area outside, where the airport is situated, may not. At Glasgow airportRenfrew, which I know wellthe taxis that are lined up are essentially private hire cars. Glasgow taxis, a portion of which at least are wheelchair accessible, may drop passengers off but they are not allowed to pick them up because of the licensing regulations. So there someone who needs help has to make arrangements in advance. That is provided for. The airport has a system which works perfectly well to ensure that if someone flying in gives notice in advance, a wheelchair-accessible taxi will be available.
Returning to Gatwickas my noble friend Lord Goschen is here as Minister in the Department of Transport I had better put a plug in for transportanyone coming from Gatwick to London would prefer to use the Gatwick Express, which I am assured is completely wheelchair accessible, as is a similar service from Stansted airport by rail.
As to the amendment, subsection (4) would mean that there would be a requirement to admit regulated taxis. That would have to apply to areas where there was already an exclusive agreement with a person to provide
It is worth saying that the great advantage of using contracts to provide taxi or private hire services is that they give the facility owner a degree of control over the fares charged for all journeys and the contract can insist that the passenger be taken where he wishes. That is particularly important at airports. As I mentioned, most airports are outside the area of the city and your Lordships will probably know that sometimes taxi drivers are either not keen to take people across boundaries or are fairly hard in their extra charging if they do. Cross-boundary charging is something of a controversy in certain parts of the country where people cross boundaries quite considerably.
A contract with the owner of the airport can get round that problem because it can insist that passengers be taken anywhere, even outside the area of the licensing authority. The facility owner should have some control over the fares charged. It ought to be pointed out that that is an advantage. It helps disabled people as well because they may want to travel across boundaries and they would wish to know that there is a degree of control over the fares charged for such journeys.
The amendment would give any driver of a regulated taxithat is, an accessible taxithe right to enter a transport facility on the payment of an entrance fee in order to ply for hire without any contract. Not that he would be required to confine his attention to disabled passengers; he could pick up anyone who hailed him. If accepted, the amendment would not necessarily benefit disabled passengers, but it would certainly benefit those taxis that are not involved in the contract. They would be able to go in and pick up passengers, not necessarily disabled passengers.
There is a problem with allowing taxis into a transport facility without imposing a contract. Taxis only have to charge what is on the meter for the journey within the area for which they are licensed. Once they go outside that area, first, they are not compelled to take passengers and, secondly, they can charge what they like, often on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Many airports are situated outside the area where the majority of the public wish to go, unlike Heathrow which is situated in London.
There is no reason why taxi or private hire vehicle owners winning a contract for a transport facility, should not be operators of a fully accessible service or a mixed taxi or private hire fleet, which are quite common outside London. There is every reason for a contract of this kind to make provision for vehicles suitable for carrying disabled passengers to be made available quickly.
I do not see why government should be required to interfere in commercial negotiations between facility owners and taxi private hire vehicle operators. The owners and operators of facilities should be free to make the arrangements appropriate for the facility without recourse to the Secretary of State, as the amendment proposes.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way but I wish to press him on the point. He said that he saw no reason why the Government should intervene in what was essentially a commercial transaction between a transport facility and the station to which it applied or wherever it was. Does he accept that transport vehiclestaxis, private hire car vehicles or hackney carriagesare part of public transport? They are, therefore, part of the public service vehicle facility at such stations. Even if my noble friend's amendment may need further amendment in the Commons, nonetheless the point that has been established is that when entering a station or airport one is entitled to expect that those vehicles should act as public service vehicles to which the Bill should apply.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am not sure whether private hire vehicles could be so considered. I have made my point as to why there are considerable advantages to the travelling public who may wish to use the taxis for a facility owner to have a special arrangement with certain operators, or even one operator, in order to ensure that passengers coming in can take a taxi and cross a licensing authority boundary. They should be able to do so without prohibitive additional pricing. One must bear that in mind.
As I have mentioned, there is a backstop and I have checked on it: if a disabled person flies into Gatwick, Glasgow or any other airport, it is not unannounced and unknown to him. At those airports there is in place a facility for ensuring that the taxi is there, just as that disabled person may have had to make arrangements with the airline and even the airport itself to be met with a wheelchair or to be helped to and from the aircraft. A disabled person in a wheelchair, when travelling by air, already has to make plans and make provision with the airline and the airport. My point is that as provision has to be made, any plans for using the taxi service also need to be made in advance.
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