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Column: I know from experience – it's not pleasant being stranded using a wheelchair

For many people, taxis are their only door-to-door public transport service. While we’ve made a good first step in making them wheelchair-friendly, more must be done.

Stephen Cluskey

IN APRIL 2014 new regulations on the taxi industry were introduced by the National Transport Authority, many of which relate to wheelchair accessible taxis. I was involved in the committee process which decided on these new measures representing wheelchair users, and I feel very positive that these changes should firstly stop the haemorrhage of wheelchair taxi numbers in Ireland and secondly go some way to reversing this trend.

In this article I want to highlight these changes in comparison to what was previously there and give some of my personal opinion on both the positives and negatives of each. The new measures are not perfect but they are the most significant changes we have seen in a very long time aiming to help wheelchair taxi drivers and their passengers.

Changing standards

Let’s start with one that seemed to get some media attention – the lowering of standards for a wheelchair accessible taxi. Now, this is a misconception as it sounds like this is a negative thing but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Previous regulation stated that a wheelchair accessible taxi must be able to take ‘a wheelchair user plus 3 passengers’ which doesn’t really make sense. Why does the taxi need to be able to accommodate the wheelchair user plus these three extra passengers?

The most popular wheelchair accessible taxi in the UK is the Peugeot Premier as it is reasonably priced, economical to run, can accommodate four passengers with plenty of luggage space in regular mode and when needed can take a wheelchair user plus one passenger. Our previous regulations ruled out these types of taxis as an option here meaning the cheapest new wheelchair accessible taxi a driver could purchase was upwards of €40,000. The regulation has been changed to ‘a wheelchair user plus 1 passenger’ opening up the Irish market to these more affordable vehicles which cost in the region of €27,500 including VAT and VRT. They are a smaller vehicle but have been very cleverly designed for the taxi industry which you can see here …


Uploaded by cabdirect1

I know from experience – it’s not pleasant being stranded

They operate great as a regular taxi and feel far more comfortable for a wheelchair user in comparison to many of the 7-seaters currently out there as there is a huge amount of head height and the conversion is very similar to a home vehicle, with rear entry and a cut floor. They provide taxi drivers who want to do wheelchair work with a good alternative option to what is currently out there at a far more reasonable price.

There is no maximum age limit for current operating wheelchair accessible taxis and this will not be changed. The reason behind this is because there has been such a depletion in numbers in recent years (more than 40 per cent in the last two years alone) that if these vehicles were taken off the road they would not be readily replaced. Some of these vehicles are not fully suitable (although many are) but I think it is better to have something rather than nothing at all.

I know from experience it is not pleasant being stranded with no way home because there is no wheelchair accessible taxi; taking these vehicles off the road overnight would only make the situation for wheelchair users much worse. Again, it is not perfect but a balance needed to be found. There is talk of a possible grant scheme in the coming months and the hope is drivers would be attracted to upgrade these older vehicles because of this. New and replacement wheelchair accessible taxis will, however, be subject to a 14 year age limit rule in comparison to 10 years for a saloon taxi. One benefit of this is to try to persuade a driver to opt for a wheelchair taxi over a saloon.

New wheelchair taxis need to be under six years old in comparison to three years for a saloon taxi. The main reason behind this is because of the significant initial cost price of a wheelchair accessible taxi. If you compare a three-year-old Skoda Octavia (common enough in the taxi industry) to a three-year-old Peugeot Premier (the cheapest wheelchair accessible taxi now available because of the regulation change) there is still roughly €7000+ in the difference, so why would a driver opt for the wheelchair taxi? This six-year rule was introduced to try to bridge this gap making a wheelchair accessible taxi more affordable for a driver with a longer lifespan of 14 years.

A good first step

Under the new regulations, drivers will now be able to swap their existing licence from a standard taxi to a wheelchair accessible taxi, which they previously could not do. They can also change back to their saloon licence if they wish. This new regulation is just common sense – it gives the driver some flexibility should they wish to pursue either route. Personally I would prefer a driver not to be able to change back as I feel we should be moving towards a taxi industry which is inclusive to everyone in society, but can understand the thinking behind this as many drivers invested significantly in their saloon licences. The six-year rule also applies to the wheelchair accessible vehicle age for a licence swap.

These new regulations are not perfect but I believe they will go a long way to encouraging more drivers to opt for a wheelchair accessible taxi over a saloon, at a time where there are only two wheelchair accessible taxis throughout the whole of Tipperary. Imagine living in South Tipperary and the only taxi available to you was in North Tipperary?

I recently got an e-mail from someone in Donegal who couldn’t get a wheelchair accessible taxi to take their mother to the funeral of her own husband. These sorts of stories are rarely heard about but happen everyday and they are not acceptable in Ireland 2014!

Taxis are the only real door-to-door public transport service for many people and should not exclude members of our society. We are at crisis point with wheelchair taxi numbers even though the taxi industry as a whole is a saturated market, but I see these new regulations as a good first step to going some way to addressing this issue.

Stephen Cluskey is the founder of www.wheelchairtaxi.ie which is a social enterprise that provides wheelchair transport listings throughout Ireland’

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Stephen Cluskey

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