Following the incident and hearing outside Birmingham New Street, I decided to write a feature on it as a piece of my coursework and this is what I found out.
The incident with the taxi driver outside Birmingham New Street station and the hearing which followed this, made me eager and passionate about the attitudes and lack of awareness and the ignorance that some taxi drivers have towards the disabled committee, then what Birmingham City Council are doing to acknowledge the difficulties and improve them.
Having had my first feature set as a piece of coursework for Practical Journalism 2 and the subject being one of my choice, I saw this as a great opportunity as I could do the research into this for personal use and to write a feature about a subject I am passionate about, I feel I do my best work this way.
Public transport is a constant pain in the side and I have had numerous issues with drivers attitudes.
After filing my complaint and working towards my feature, I spoke with a licensing support officer, who works for Birmingham City Council to see if she could provide me with more information and to see whether anybody else who is a wheelchair or who is disabled has made a complaint of a similar nature to my own.
As the licensing support officer, Teresa Wilding and the rest of her team regulate various licenses involving taxis, alcohol, gambling etc.
As they regulate licences in these different areas, they monitor and make sure the licence holders are compliant with those conditions, as well as other primary lacerations encouraging people to comply with the legislations.
Unfortunately if the licence holders become irresponsible and they may not wish to comply and if this situation occurs, then the licencing committee has powers to prosecute or look to review their licences, referring to licensing committees who then have the power to revoke suspend or refuse to renew licenses.
Following my taxi trauma, I became intrigued by the number of complaints that the council have received against their taxi drivers.
When I looked further in to it, I found out that the majority of complaints that the council receive are regarding their licensed taxi drivers.
The complaints can vary, but in my opinion, it’s that taxi drivers show lack of understanding of disability and ignorance towards us as community. I understand that members of the disabled community feel uncomfortable and timid speaking out about such incidents with taxi drivers, they may feel vulnerable if they speak up.
However, when I filed my compliant, I was told that my statement gave an insight into the hurt and distress this incident coursed, in addition to the taxi driver’s behaviour and allowed Birmingham City Council to appreciate how the incident made me feel.
I’d like to enforce that though I felt anxious at first about speaking to the council, that soon vanished and I didn’t feel intimidated by them at all. I was treated with immense respect and listened to at length.
I was impressed by how serious they took the complaint. I had an official apology from the council, some people are reluctant to make a stand, but in my opinion, if they don’t speak up, then things and attitudes and behaviours won’t be acknowledged or improved.
According to what I found out, Birmingham City Council have had a spike recently in relation to a number of private hire taxis refusing to carry guide dogs and other assistance dogs.
Birmingham City Council has a mandatory policy that all new applicants for carriages and private hire driver licences have to attend which includes mandatory disability awareness equality training.
Conversations with them caused them to feel encouraged to speak up and for Birmingham City Council to change an aspect of their training course.
One of the points to this was regarding Islamic drivers refusing to carry guide dogs due to their religious beliefs.
This is one of the many ongoing issue’s that the council are facing with their drivers. This is shocking and also more blind and partially sighted passengers are being refused service from taxi drivers in the same way that wheelchair users are being refused due to the lack of accessibility that people carriers have at present time.
But I am glad to hear Birmingham City Council are making necessary changes to the training courses and also feel reassured by this and the feedback is acknowledged and is included when they train new applicants.
Even though Birmingham City Council’s licensed drivers don’t have to complete the disability awareness training after they have the first time which I find disappointing, I hope that the new applicants who take the more updated training course speak with the licence drivers and tell them about the update the council have made and this in turn makes everyone more aware of as much as they can.
However, on the positive side, serious improvements are being made to Birmingham City Council’s taxis.
In 2018, the council are due to review their fleet of taxis to update them and make them accommodating for a wider array of disabilities and wheelchair models. Birmingham City Council have an extremely old fleet, some taxis are 14 years old.
Most are designed to accommodate a manual wheelchair rather than the larger electric wheelchair that is becoming more popular. Birmingham City Council, are responsible for licensing approximately 1188 vehicles and 1300 taxi drivers, however the taxi drivers aren’t all aware of the different styles and makes of wheelchairs.
Teresa Wilding spoke about how Birmingham City Council has accepted that models of wheelchairs have updated a lot since the fleet was first designed and that disabled people are a lot more independent that they once were and as a result of this Birmingham City Council are taking a number of steps and that they need to engage more with disabled people and groups that represent them as well as wheelchair prescribers and companies who provide wheelchairs – to get a clearer image and outlook on the taxis in the fleet.
Due to the sizes of wheelchairs and the fact there is no specific dimensions that the taxis have to be, the disabled person in the wheelchair may struggle to get through the door and struggle to move in the turning circle with the taxi.
Birmingham City Council hope that once they have spoken with disabled people and companies and charities that represent them, they then relay that information to vehicle manufacturers about updating the fleet but also increasing the number of taxis within the fleet to accommodate the numbers of styles, models and makes of wheelchairs that may need to use them.
As well as increasing the number of taxis within the fleet, I hope they see the advantages to a rear loading vehicle as it would be easier for the wheelchair to manoeuvre and it would be more comfortable for the wheelchair, as there would be less confined space which would be easier for the disabled person or wheelchair user.
Overall, I know there’s been a lot to consider but it’s all important and relevant when talking about something this important. There are definitely issues that need to be thought out with precision and accuracy, especially as this isn’t something that’s happened to me once, it happens regularly to me and I suspect many other disabled people.
However, I am impressed that Birmingham City Council are aware of the Equality Act and take it so seriously in such incidents like this. I also admire how they keep updated with the Equality Act and how they constantly welcome feedback from disabled people about their services and how to improve them.
In my opinion Birmingham City Council need to monitor the situation more closely and also speak and work closely with disabled people to ensure the changes are made and make sure they are more aware of Birmingham City Council’s services and how they help where it’s needed.
Disabled people, whether in a wheelchair or not, need to speak up as we need to make people aware on things and feelings that we only we have experience ourselves otherwise our thoughts and feelings won’t be heard and the improvements won’t be made.
Only ‘we’ as a disabled community can speak honestly about what we go through and how it makes us feel, only then can Birmingham City Council be wiser.
Able-bodied people don’t have to tolerate this! Why should disabled people? Why should we feel like a burden to taxi drivers, when able bodied people aren’t subjected to this type of behaviour?
It’s time to make a stand! I did and the driver in question had his license revoked for two months, during one of the busiest times of year.