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Summary: Taxis are a very important method of transport for people with physical and sensory disabilities. For some they are the only option. In 2003, as part of the European Year of People with Disabilities, a consortium of disability representative organisations, including NCBI, published a report on accessible taxis. The objective of the report was to identify the most suitable taxi or hackney service in the Irish environment, for both urban and rural users, by reviewing international best practice.
The accessible taxi report has been funded as part of the European Year of People with Disabilities. The proposal for the project was developed by a consortium of disability representative organisations, namely:
- Disability Federation of Ireland
- Irish Wheelchair Association
- National Training and Development Institute
- Not For Profit Business Association
The objective of the project was to identify the most suitable taxi or hackney service in the Irish environment, for both urban and rural users, by reviewing international best practice in relation to:
- Models of service in place to provide taxis to meet the requirements
of passengers with physical and sensory disabilities;
- Alternatives to a commercial taxi service that would work in tandem
with private accessible taxi services;
- Taxi vehicle design and specification;
- Technology used to support service delivery;
- Level of government intervention and incentives;
- Level of driver training and codes of practice;
- Taxi industry structure; and
- Financial implications and solutions.
This report shows how Ireland could adopt practices from different international taxi service models and incorporate them with a strategy developed following consultation with relevant parties in Ireland, in order to move towards an accessible taxi service for all.
Consultation process and research
Stakeholders’ issues were identified via three consultation workshops, surveys, email correspondence, and individual interviews with potential taxi users, the taxi trade and statutory bodies. The following are some of the issues that emerged, from the perspective of people with disabilities:
‘They are useless when it comes to wheelchairs. Some wheelchair taxis do not have clamps in them and the attitude of some of the drivers is awful’ (youth with disability).
‘I am not happy about using them because I had a bad experience. The driver gave out to my mum about the wheelchair. I felt sad’ (youth with disability).
‘Often I can’t get a taxi to go out at night and have to end up with my parents driving me – which is not what you want at the end of a night out’ (youth with disability).
‘The driver had no idea how to anchor my wheelchair.’
‘When I explained I was deaf he just kept shouting at me.’
‘I stood with my guide dog for ages while the taxis kept passing by.’
‘I spend half my income on taxis and have to cut down on other essentials like food to cover this.’
‘There aren’t any buses and I can’t afford to take taxis.’
‘The saloon taxis are very difficult to get in and out of – they’re cramped and too low to get into. On the other hand the van-type taxi has a step that’s much too high.’
‘With my poor eyesight, I can’t see whether the car coming is a taxi or not – they’re all different shapes, colours and sizes.’
‘There just aren’t any taxis where I live.’
The consultation process highlighted the importance of the availability, accessibility and affordability of taxi transport for people with disabilities. Taxis often represent the only possible public transport option for carrying out daily activities such as work, education, shopping, banking, medical appointments and social activities.
International research was carried out on models of best practice in taxi service provision in the UK, the US, Australia, Sweden and the Netherlands. As there was no one model that could in its entirety be ‘imported’ into Ireland, elements of different models from the various countries have been combined in recommending a suitable model for Ireland that meets the needs of all people with sensory and physical disabilities.
The consultation process and international research informed the recommendations outlined below:
Recommendations: Booking the trip
- Introduce a national information service for all passengers that includes advice about all travel options, including information about taxi accessibility for people with disabilities. This information service should have an accessible website and telephone system.
- Dispatch wheelchair-accessible taxis via a central booking system, for all taxi companies, monitored via a GPS system. When the system has been implemented, appropriate sanctions should be put in place for non-compliance. The central booking system should be operated by an independent agency following a Department of Transport tender process.
- Taxi companies and taxi operators should install fax, minicom, email and SMS messaging facilities for booking.
*When a vehicle arrives to collect a person with a vision impairment, the customer and driver should exchange an agreed password before the passenger boards the taxi.
Recommendations: Ranks and infrastructure
- Include information about taxi rank locations on town and city maps. Make lists of these locations available in other accessible formats for people with vision impairments.
- Develop a Best Practice Design Guide for accessible taxi ranks.
- Carry out national audits and develop accessibility plans for ranks and pickup points.
- Improve signage at ranks by increasing colour contrast and letter size.
- Ensure the appropriate positioning of signs, especially from the pedestrian perspective.
- Provide underfoot tactile indicators at taxi ranks for people with vision impairments.
- Encourage local authorities to provide taxi ranks as part of planning initiatives.
Recommendations: Hailing a taxi
- Introduce a national mandatory bright yellow taxi livery so that taxis can be easily distinguished from other traffic.
- Illuminate the sign on top of the taxi brightly.
- Include a clear indication on taxi signs to show whether or not the vehicle is wheelchair accessible.
Recommendations: Vehicle requirements
To meet the varying needs of people with physical and sensory disabilities, two models of accessible taxis are required in the future:
- Standard accessible taxi: this saloon taxi has specific accessibility features for all taxi users except those who need to remain in their wheelchair;
- Wheelchair accessible taxi: as well as having the same accessibility features as the ‘standard accessible taxi’, this taxi is specifically designed to allow passengers to travel in their wheelchairs.
Minimum accessibility features for all taxis
- Minimum internal and boot size.
- Induction loop.
- Microphone between driver and passenger, where there is a dividing screen.
- Talking meter.
- GPS (global positioning satellite).
- Licence numbers written in jumbo-sized black numbers on external
- Licence numbers, complaints telephone number and taxi fares displayed
on a panel on the back of the driver’s and front passenger’s seats in
large clear print, e.g. white letters on black using both upper- and lower-case lettering. This information should be provided in Braille on the same panel.
- Floor colour contrasting with seat colour.
- Non-slip floor covering.
- Bright yellow grab handles and clearly marked seat edges.
- Contrasting delineation of any gap for passing money through a screen.
- Mandatory national bright yellow livery.
- Strong illumination of roof sign with clear indication of wheelchair accessibility.
Additional features for wheelchair-accessible taxis
- Maximum step height.
- Ramps with minimum slope.
- Wheelchair anchor points and seat belts.
Recommendations: Ratio of wheelchair accessible taxis
- There should be a minimum availability of wheelchair-accessible taxis based on a combination of area size and population, with research commissioned to establish details.
- The rate of new issue of saloon car taxi licences should be slowed down via some of the quality control measures discussed in later sections until the ratio of wheelchair accessible to saloon car taxis is 1:5.
Recommendations: Providing incentives for an accessible taxi service
- Establish a 3-year timetable for moving towards a totally accessible taxi fleet. The entire taxi fleet should meet the specifications outlined in the ‘Minimum Accessibility Features for all Taxis’ table, with a ratio of 1:5 being wheelchair accessible.
- Four strategies, listed below, are suggested to increase support for taxi drivers when purchasing wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Further research is required to establish the most effective option or combination.
i. Maintain the dual standard of taxi licensing, with one licence for ‘standard accessible taxis’ and a concessionary licence for ‘wheelchair accessible taxis’. ii. A VRT/VAT amnesty for the purchase of new purpose-built wheelchair-accessible taxis (including a licence fee rebate proportionate to the expiry time). A detailed specification to identify eligible vehicles would need to be developed. iii. Award and monitor public service contracts as a means of providing incentives to the taxi industry to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles. iv. Tax rebates and credits.
Recommendations: Driver training
- Licensing requirements should include an introductory driver training course. The training should include disability awareness, e.g. how to communicate with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, how to safely guide a person with vision impairment, and how to clamp and secure wheelchairs.
- It is important that such training is customised and carried out in co-operation with taxi trade organisations. This training should be a precondition of obtaining a licence.
- Introduce a user concession for taxi users with a disability, which places the subsidy in the control of the user, taking account of additional time incurred by taxi drivers.
Recommendations: Monitoring, complaints and sanctions
- Establish independent monitoring procedures to check on the treatment of people with disabilities by the taxi trade. This should include carrying out surveys and consultation with taxi users with disabilities.
- Provide better information to people with disabilities regarding how to complain about taxi services. Information should be provided in accessible formats to people with vision impairments, including Braille, large print, on computer disk and audiotape. Driver identification number and complaints telephone number should be placed in large print and Braille on the back of the front seats. Driver identification number should also appear in jumbo-sized black numbers on external passenger door.
- Reconsider the process for complaints and penalties for misdemeanours, in favour of a more user-friendly and conciliatory system.
- Introduce a system of sanctions to ensure a high level of compliance. Persistent offenders should face withdrawal of licence and/or substantial fines.
Recommendations: Rural issues
- Re-examine existing legislation that precludes hackneys from holding wheelchair-accessible licences.
- Encourage enhanced co-operation among wheelchair-accessible transport providers in rural areas.
- Particular attention should be paid to specific requirements in rural areas when examining the integration of public transport services.
Recommendations: Integration with other public transport services
- Research should be carried out into models of interchange between systems of transportation, concessionary travel systems and information provision.
Recommendations: Towards a sustainable structure for the taxi industry
- Encourage individual drivers to combine and join taxi companies. There are many ways of organising such companies but the most feasible format in Ireland would be for drivers to maintain their self-employed status whilst the taxi company provides information, training and dispatch systems. An alternative would be for Trade Union organisations to develop such systems with membership on a co-operative basis.
- Accelerate the formation of such taxi companies and co-operatives by introducing appropriate and innovative incentives.
- A Charter of Rights for taxi users and a Code of Good Practice for the taxi trade should be developed in consultation with all interest groups – providers, associated interests (e.g. the Gardaí and regions) and taxi users, including users with disabilities.
This study highlights serious problems in relation to the provision of taxi transport for people with disabilities in Ireland. There is a marked and continuing decline in the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis; in some areas there is no service. In addition, the report finds that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the current level of taxi service among people with disabilities.
One of the fundamental objectives of this report has been to ensure that the needs of passengers with disabilities are served by the taxi industry. However, it is likely that the market alone will not fully provide for the needs of people with disabilities, therefore a number of strategies for achieving their inclusion in the service are suggested. Although the recommendations have been presented individually, it is clear that they come as a package. Choosing to implement only some of them will not achieve the objective of integrating the needs of people with disabilities into the taxi service. Some of the findings and recommendations of this report will require further analysis by each of the stakeholders.
The full report contains recommendations that are explained and justified in detail using international best practice in taxi provision, the views of people with disabilities in Ireland and views of other stakeholders about what is suitable and feasible in the Irish context.
It is intended that this report will provide the Taxi Commissioner, the taxi industry and people with disabilities with the information necessary to make informed decisions about the future accessibility of the taxi service in Ireland.