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Bus Éireann in €5k payout over subcontractor who wouldn't let boy with autism eat toast in taxi

The taxi driver changed the routine after he bought a new car.

Image: Shutterstock

A SCHOOLBOY WHO was found to be discriminated against on the grounds of his disability has been awarded €5,000 by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

His parents had taken a case against Bus Éireann, which was providing school transportation services for the 16-year-old through a subcontracted taxi company.

Due to the boy’s special needs, and the importance of maintaining his breakfast routine, his parents asked for this to be facilitated by the taxi driver and this was done from 2015 onwards.

However, in January 2017, a taxi driver said he was getting a new taxi worth €60,000 and asked that the boy no longer eat in his car.

After numerous contacts with Bus Éireann, the parents were unable to find a solution and said their son stopped eating breakfast altogether and this had a significant impact on his behaviour and development.

‘Extremely important’

The parents said they’d secured public transport for their son from Bus Éireann in mid-2015. The service was subcontracted to a taxi driver, where he would be collected from home alongside another child and a special needs assistant.

Due to his particular dietary requirements, he would have breakfast in the taxi enroute, which would consist of a slice of toast, a banana and fruit juice.

His parents said that “due to the diagnosis of autism, his routine was an extremely important element of his life and where any changes in his routine could cause difficulty and regression in his development”.

This requirement was adhered to in 2015 and, even when a different taxi driver began to transport the boy to school in 2016, it wasn’t a problem.

However, the parents said, in late-January 2017 the driver of the taxi said that he was getting a new taxi worth €60,000 and asked if the boy would not eat toast in the new car.

The boy’s father said it had never been a problem before and would disrupt the boy’s routine. They offered to buy a portable vacuum for the driver to clean up any crumbs, but the driver maintained he didn’t want the child to eat toast in his new taxi.

The driver said it was a Bus Éireann policy not to eat on school transport, and that there were health and safety issues related to eating on such transport.

The parents contacted Bus Éireann, and said an inspector advised them that the taxi driver was being reasonable and that this was the policy.

They couldn’t, however, locate such a policy and wrote a number of letters to Bus Éireann requesting clarification on why it was a health and safety issue.

Because they couldn’t find any record of such a health and safety policy, the parents argued such a policy didn’t exist.

They submitted to the WRC that they had particular challenges with their son’s diet as they had to provide a very set menu year-round. Since the refusal of the taxi driver, he had stopped eating breakfast altogether, they said.

One of their other children travelled to school on a bus service operated by Bus Éireann and they said that this child was allowed to eat on the bus when travelling to and from school.

‘Not the correct respondent’

Bus Éireann submitted that it should not have been the respondent in this claim, as the taxi company it subcontracted provided the service.

Nevertheless, it said that taxi regulations state that a passenger must not soil a vehicle in any way, and any eating or drinking must be done with the driver’s permission.

It also pointed to a medical report from the boy which indicated he regularly takes breakfast at school, including toast which is made for him at school.

It was also argued that the taxi driver had no difficulty with the boy consuming a banana or a fruit juice in the vehicle and that therefore reasonable accommodation was being provided for a person with a disability.

Conclusion

However, in his conclusions on the case, WRC adjudication officer Gerry Rooney found that: “A reasonable requirement exists to accommodate the complainant to eat a small amount of food, including toast, when travelling to school in the taxi.”

It was further found that Bus Éireann “failed to reasonably engage with the parents” on the matter and failed to “deal with the matter reasonably”.

In response to the complaint, the WRC therefore awarded the complainant €5,000.

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Sean Murray

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