The Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Disabled Persons) Bill is a private member’s bill sponsored in the House of Lords by Lord McLoughlin (Conservative). It was originally introduced in the House of Commons by Jeremy Wright (Conservative MP for Kenilworth and Southam). It completed its House of Commons stages on 18 March 2022, where it received government and opposition support. The Department for Transport has provided the explanatory notes for the bill.

The bill had its first reading in the House of Lords on 21 March 2022. Its second reading is scheduled for 1 April 2022.

How frequently do disabled people use taxis and private hire vehicles?

People with mobility difficulties made more than twice as many trips by taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) than those with no mobility difficulty in 2020. The Department for Transport’s September 2021 data on transport accessibility and mobility also detailed that there has been a similar pattern over the last decade, with people with mobility difficulties making more trips by taxi and PHVs than those with no such difficulty:

Chart 1: Trips per person per year by taxis and PHVs, with and without mobility difficulty, 2010 to 2020

This chart details the trips per person per year by taxis and private hire vehicles for people with and without mobility difficulty from 2010 to 2020. It reveals that people with mobility difficulties make more trips by taxi and private hire vehicles than those with no such difficulty. For example, people with mobility difficulties made 13 trips by taxi/minicab in 2020, whereas those without such difficulties made 6 trips.

Source: Department for Transport, ‘Accessibility: Travel by mobility status and main mode or mode—England’, updated 22 September 2021, NTS0709.

Legislative background: Equality Act 2010

Sections 160 to 173 of the Equality Act 2010 cover the carriage and treatment of disabled people by taxis and PHVs in Great Britain. Northern Ireland has separate anti-discrimination legislation covering the treatment of disabled people in accessing transport services.

Sections 165 to 167 of the act commenced in 2017, whilst sections 168 to 171 commenced in 2010.

Section 165: Duties on drivers of designated wheelchair accessible taxis and private hire vehicles

Section 165 currently places duties on drivers of designated wheelchair accessible taxis and PHVs to carry a disabled passenger who uses a wheelchair and to do so without additional charges. At present, this excludes wheelchair users who can fold their wheelchair and transfer into a non-wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) from mobility assistance when using a non-designated WAV. The section also excludes all other disabled passengers, who do not use a wheelchair, from any protection when travelling in a taxi or PHV.

Section 166: Exemption certificates

Section 166 allows local licensing authorities (LLAs) to issue a driver with a certificate exempting the person from their duties in assisting passengers in wheelchairs (section 165) if they are satisfied that it is appropriate to do so either:

  • on medical grounds; or
  • because the driver’s physical condition makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for them to comply with the duties.

Section 167: Lists of wheelchair accessible vehicles

Section 167 states that LLAs may maintain a list of wheelchair accessible taxis and PHVs licensed in their area. The Department for Transport reports that since commencement of the section in 2017, only 70 percent of authorities have maintained lists. The Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Disabled Persons) Bill’s explanatory notes state that the duties for drivers under section 165 apply only to drivers of vehicles that have been designated on a list under section 167, which has meant that drivers in areas without such lists “have been able to continue discriminating against disabled passengers, even if the vehicle is technically wheelchair accessible”.

Sections 168 to 171: Guide dogs and assistance dogs

Sections 168 to 171 of the Equality Act 2010 cover the carriage of guide dogs and other assistance dogs in taxis and PHVs in England and Wales. As part of this, sections 168 and 170 create offences against taxi drivers, PHV drivers and operators who refuse to carry, or make an additional charge for carrying, a disabled person travelling with an assistance dog.

Government policy: Supporting disabled people using taxis and private hire vehicles

Since 2021, the Government has announced plans to develop a ‘Disabled Persons Passenger Charter’ and has published a ‘National Disability Strategy’ to support disabled passengers of taxis and PHVs. In particular, the Government has committed to legislate following reports of disabled people being discriminated against by taxi and PHV drivers or not being given necessary assistance.

Disabled Persons Passenger Charter

In January 2022, the Department for Transport announced that alongside the disability charity Scope, it would be developing a new ‘Disabled Persons Passenger Charter’ for bus, coach, PHV, rail and taxi travel in England. The new charter would provide disabled people with a “clear explanation” of their rights and “improve journeys” for disabled people by “helping ensure they can travel easily and more confidently”. It would do this by bringing together information for disabled passengers and provide advice for passengers on “what to do when things do not go as expected”. As at March 2022, the charter is yet to be published.

National Disability Strategy

In July 2021, the Government published its ‘National Disability Strategy’ setting out the action it would be taking to “improve the everyday lives of all disabled people”. This included improving the accessibility of taxis and PHVs. In its strategy, the Government described the current protection for disabled people using such modes of transport as “patchy”. The Government also noted that disabled people had continued to report being discriminated against by taxi and PHV drivers or not being given necessary assistance.

Consequently, the Government announced that it would take forward legislation during the current Parliament to “strengthen the law” on the carriage of disabled people in taxis and PHVs across Britain. It said that this would “ensure protection from overcharging and the provision of appropriate assistance, regardless of the service they choose to use”. In addition, the Government stated that the Department for Transport would “as soon as legislative time allows” mandate the completion of disability awareness training through new national minimum standards for taxi and PHV licensing.

What would the bill do?

The Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Disabled Persons) Bill would amend sections of the Equality Act 2010 relating to the carriage of disabled people by taxis and PHVs. The explanatory notes state “the Equality Act 2010 provides disabled people with some protection, but it applies inconsistently and only with respect to certain disabilities”. Consequently, the bill would amend the relevant 2010 act sections to:

  • reduce discrimination against disabled people;
  • “address the barriers” they face in accessing taxi and PHV services; and
  • “open opportunities” through travelling by taxi or PHV.

It would seek to do this by ensuring that disabled people are given appropriate assistance when travelling by taxi or PHV and by preventing overcharging. The bill would also create defences to the offences the bill created, where drivers could not reasonably have known of a passenger’s disability or of the mobility assistance they might require.

Provisions of the bill

The bill comprises of six clauses.

Clause 1 would amend the Equality Act 2010 and place duties on the driver of a taxi or PHV that has been hired to transport a disabled person who is able and wants to travel in a non-WAV. Subsection (2) of clause 1 would insert a new section (section 164A) into the act, which would place duties on drivers to:

  • carry a disabled passenger, their wheelchair or mobility aids;
  • take “reasonable steps” to ensure that the passenger is “carried in safety and reasonable comfort”;
  • give the passenger such mobility assistance “as is reasonably required”; and
  • to not make or propose to make any additional charge for complying with these duties.

Subsection (9) of new section 164A would set out that a driver has committed an offence by failing to comply with a duty imposed on them under the new section. A person guilty of an offence under section 164A would be liable on summary conviction to a level 3 fine of up to £1,000.

Subsections 12 and 13 would set out the defences that would be in place for a person charged with an offence under the new section. They are as follows:

  • at the time of the offence, the driver could “not have reasonably known” that the passenger was disabled or that they required mobility assistance; or
  • at the time of the offence, it would not have been possible for the wheelchair or mobility aids to be carried safely in the vehicle; or
  • it would not have been reasonable “in all circumstances” for the wheelchair or mobility aids to be carried in the vehicle.

Subsection (4) of clause 1 would insert a new section (165A) into the 2010 act imposing duties on the driver of a pre-booked taxi or PHV where certain conditions are met. The first condition is that the vehicle has been hired either by or for a disabled person or by another person accompanying a disabled person. The second condition is that the driver of the vehicle has been made aware prior to the start of the passenger’s journey that the passenger requires assistance to identify or find that vehicle.

Subsection (5) of new section 165A would set out the duties imposed on drivers under the new section. Drivers are to take “reasonable steps” to assist the passenger in identifying or finding the vehicle which has been hired and to not make, or propose to make, any additional charges for doing so. Subsections 6 and 7 detail that a driver would commit an offence if they failed to comply with a duty imposed under the new section, and, if found guilty, would be liable to a level 3 fine of up to £1,000.

Clause 2 would amend the operation of medical exemption certificates currently in section 166 of the 2010 act. It would exempt drivers only from duties to give the passenger such mobility assistance as required under new section 164A and the existing section 165 of the act. Other duties, including not proposing additional charges on the passenger, would still apply to drivers who hold such certificates.

Clause 3 would require all LLAs to maintain lists of licensed WAVs and to make these lists publicly available. The bill’s explanatory notes states that the Department for Transport will publish guidance for LLAs, including detailing how the lists should be made publicly available and how often they should be updated.

Clause 4 would insert a new section (167A) into the 2010 act detailing the duties that operators of PHVs must adhere to. Subsection (1) would create a new offence for operators who refuse to accept a booking requested by or on behalf of a disabled person when the reason for failing or refusing to do so is because the passenger has a disability or to prevent the driver being made subject to the relevant duty under clause 1 of the bill. Additionally, subsection (2) would create a new offence for operators who make, or propose to make, an additional charge for the carrying out of any duty imposed on the driver under section 165 and the proposed new sections 164A and 165A of the 2010 act. Both offences would be punishable by a level 3 fine of up to £1,000.

Subsection (4) would provide a defence in relation to the offence created by clause 4 of the bill. The defence is that evidence should be provided by the operator detailing that it was reasonable not to have accepted the booking due to a “lack of suitable vehicles”.

Clause 5 would make minor amendments to the 2010 act in relation to extending certain duties to not propose or make additional charges. The clause also makes minor and consequential amendments to certain definitions in the act.

Lastly, clause 6 would set out territorial extent and commencement. It would extend to England, Scotland and Wales and come into force two months after the bill was passed. In line with the Equality Act 2010, the bill does not extend or apply to Northern Ireland.

What happened in the House of Commons?

The bill was first introduced in the House of Commons on 16 June 2021 by Jeremy Wright (Conservative MP for Kenilworth and Southam), after coming 17th in the private member’s bill ballot that took place at the beginning of the 2021–22 parliamentary session.

Second reading

The bill received its second reading in the House of Commons on 14 January 2022. Opening the debate, Jeremy Wright stated that the bill was “designed to improve the travelling experience of disabled passengers” but “should not do so by imposing burdens on taxi and PHVs they are incapable of bearing, or that it would be unreasonable to ask them to bear”. Therefore, Mr Wright said the bill had included defences to the offences created.

During second reading, the bill was supported by the Government and the Opposition. The Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Transport, Wendy Morton, stated that the bill had the “full support” of the Government. She further said that:

We [the Government] support the proposed improvements to the Equality Act 2010 by addressing the inconsistencies in provision and expanding protections for disabled passengers. Expanding the protections currently afforded to wheelchair and assistance dog users to all disabled people, regardless of their disability or impairment, and regardless of the type of taxi or private hire vehicle in which they travel, is an important step towards our vision of a fully inclusive transport network and building back fairer.

Speaking on behalf of the Opposition, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, a Shadow Minister for Transport, described the bill as “important”. He also stated that it would “help to address the barriers that disabled people face in accessing taxi and private hire vehicle services”, which was a “laudable aim” that the Labour Party “fully support[s]”.

Remaining stages

No amendments to the bill were considered during the public bill committee debate on 9 February 2022.

During committee stage, Jeremy Wright stated that, collectively, clauses 1, 4 and 5 of the bill would “resolve the inconsistencies in the Equality Act 2010”. Mr Wright said that it would do this by “provid[ing] any disabled person with protections from, and rights not to be subject to, unfair treatment, providing reassurance that they will receive reasonable assistance to travel where they want to go”.

Speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, Gill Furniss, a Shadow Minister for Transport, stated that the bill presented a “perfect opportunity” to tackle discrimination against disabled people when they use taxis and PHVs. However, she called on the Government to ensure that in the two-month period between the bill being passed and coming into force that all taxi and PHV drivers were “fully aware” of their new obligations.

Responding to Ms Furniss’ concern relating to driver obligations under the bill, Wendy Morton stated that the Government estimated that the cost to taxi and PHV drivers of familiarising themselves with the proposed changes in the bill would be “at most, one hour per driver”.

No amendments were tabled to the bill after committee stage, so the bill progressed straight to third reading on 18 March 2022. Speaking at third reading, Jeremy Wright thanked MPs and the Government for supporting the bill. Additionally, Mr Wright thanked those who had contributed to the bill’s development, including those working in the charity sector; representatives of driver and vehicle operators; and those working in local authorities.

The bill passed third reading without division.

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Cover image by Public Domain Pictures on Pixabay.