A registered assistance dog and his visually impaired owner went undercover this week to help Walsall Council Community Protection Team with an important mission. Special Agent ‘Bramble’ a black Labrador and owner Kevin were tasked with making sure that private hire drivers and bases in Walsall are not discriminating against visually impaired passengers, by refusing to take them and their dogs to their destination, or overcharging them when they get there. The law is clear that drivers cannot refuse to take a passenger with a registered assistance dog or charge extra for their journey. Visually impaired passengers are often reliant on taxis to get out and about and maintain their independence, but if there is an issue with a hire firm, they may not report it for fear of not being able to get taxis in the future.
Councillor Garry Perry, portfolio holder for Communities Leisure and Culture said: “We will always support people with disabilities and investigate their complaints. Our council officers carry out undercover on the spot operations to make sure the trade is behaving as it should”.
Out of the four journeys that were booked, two taxi companies provided an excellent service and ably assisted Kevin and Bramble. However, this wasn’t the case with all the firms and drivers – one charged double the normal fare for the journey. With another seemingly driving past Kevin and his Guide dog, leaving them standing in the cold for half an hour, until a second vehicle from the same firm was dispatched to pick them up.
Councillor Perry added “We are really pleased that two of the drivers provided an excellent service for this passenger and his guide dog, one even refused a tip. However, we will be investigating fully the other two incidents and will not hesitate to take firm action where necessary. The provision of support for passengers with all sorts of vulnerability, including physical disabilities, is part of the training provided to all new drivers licensed by Walsall Council, so they should have no excuse for this sort of behaviour.”
The recent private hire operation follows on from another Community Protection exercise in partnership with the Central Motorway Police Group, West Midlands Fire and Rescue and wider. It checked the licensing and safety of taxis and private hire vehicles and drivers, as well as vans carrying scrap metal and other traffic offences. During that operation two private hire vehicles were suspended from service and two other drivers were discovered not to be wearing their badges. Six additional van drivers were also advised about the correct disposal of waste and the problems of fly tipping. Two vehicles were seized for no insurance and fixed penalty tickets were issued for the use of mobile phones and seat belts. Where children did not have the correct child seats, no journeys were allowed to continue until this had been put right.
Further enforcement operations to tackle a range of issues are planned in the coming weeks.