One of West Yorkshire’s most respected disabled organisations and Leeds Hackney Carriage Unite branch are jointly opposed to proposed government legislation that will hit both group’s members. The fight to prevent the repeal of Section 16 of the 1985 Transport Act was begun by the Liverpool Hackney carriage branch of Unite last year. Now it’s quickly being transported nationwide.
It’s a struggle to prevent chaos on Britain’s roads, with the Government having tasked the Law Commission with bundling together all the acts relating to Hackney carriages and thus end Local Authorities ability to control numbers through licensing.
Professional driving standards and roadworthy vehicles with disabled access will be threatened by allowing anyone to establish a business to carry fare-paying passengers. A similar bus scheme, introduced by Thatcher in the 80s, saw buses dangerously competing on overcrowded roads to pick up passengers and created a poorer service that damaged driver’s pay and conditions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore that when the Office of Fair Trading in 2006 proposed the current changes they received a bashing from the Transport Select Committee and were quickly abandoned.
Paul Landau, branch chair, and 23 years in the industry, says “Section 16 provides safeguards for passengers and drivers. Currently the former can be certain of entering a properly maintained vehicle driven by an experienced driver who has not had to work excessive hours in order to make a decent living.”
“Under the proposals that might not be the case by 2014” says branch secretary Paul Howard “as the market will be open to anyone seeking to make a quick buck by working for lower fares in return for spending less on maintaining the vehicles used to transport people.”
Disabled people are one of the biggest users of the door-to-door service provided by Hackney Carriages. It was only seventeen years ago that Leeds City Council licensed the first fully accessible vehicle, which can cost on average £25,000 more than the standard saloon. It’s feared such a sum in the future will be unaffordable for drivers struggling to stay in business.
According to Tim McSharry, who is partially sighted and secretary of the self-help disabled people’s organisation, the Access Committee of Leeds, that would be “a big blow as the Hackney Carriage drivers provide an excellent service. Since 2000 we have developed a partnership with them and the council, resulting in a diverse vehicle range and training that give drivers a greater understanding of disabled people’s needs.
Many users testify to the quality service provided, with many drivers going that extra-mile by assisting people into their homes and ensuring they are settled before leaving. It’s critical the government doesn’t undermine the excellent work done in Leeds and in other localities.”
“We are meeting MPs shortly to raise our concerns,” said Howard.