Taxis for wheelchair users!

In a time where research is making so many developments, we aren’t getting the basics of patient experience right.

Taxi, taxi, taxi, …..

Recently, I was shocked at how difficult it was to organise taxi transport for wheelchair-using members of a meeting. The university where we’re based has taxi company suppliers that, as a member of staff, I must use. But on this occasion (in the midst of office Christmas party season) all of their wheelchair-accessible cars were booked out. I don’t know how many cars they have, but I doubt very many.

It was incredibly difficult to find taxi companies with cars that could accommodate someone travelling in a wheelchair. I also wanted to pre-book (and get a trustworthy form of confirmation – i.e. not a verbal agreement saying they’d turn up) and pre-pay for the journey. 

This is the standard level of service that is provided by companies for able-bodied passengers in a major city, so why not people in wheelchairs? 

I was then surprised to find that there wasn’t one centralised source of information that had up-to-date links to wheelchair accessible vehicles – does one exist?  I know there are very helpful guides for accessible venues, like Euan’s Guide, which is a fantastic resource providing disabled access reviews across the UK. So I thought there would be something similar for transport services.

London Black Cabs can take wheelchairs, but to pre-book and pre-pay for these you need an account which is contracted through the council and TfL, so I couldn’t get one. I believe this is the TaxiCard scheme which allows people with serious mobility difficulties to travel in cabs at a reduced rate. Alarmingly, the London Evening Standard reports that TfL will be cutting its contribution to this scheme. I can imagine this will have a hugely detrimental impact on the people that depend on this to travel.

I finally was able to book a black cab through another company, after setting up a business account. But that’s not the end of the story. On the day, many of the taxis cancelled or just didn’t show up. This was incredibly frustrating, and appeared unprofessional on our part, to the people we had invited in. 

Stranded with very few options, I ended up using Uber’s new Access setting which sent a car within 15 minutes. After being let down so badly, this service really saved the day.

Considering that all research should involve people who are affected by that research in some stage of the process (termed as Patient Public Involvement from the university perspective), cuts to schemes like TaxiCard will create yet another barrier to making research inclusive.

I’d be interested to hear your experiences of moving around major cities in taxis, or in your local area. 

About the author

Alison Thomson


Leave a Reply to Anonymous Cancel reply

  • I live in Morecambe,lancashire I use a wheelchair and find it virtualy imposible to pre book an acesable taxi its very difficult getting to timed appointments or trains even meals out,im constantly told that I just have to wait sometimes hours before a taxi is available,its upsetting and frustrating.i travel to lots of uk cities and mosttowns have the same issues,at least ion London you have black cabs and all buses are accesable but its a nationwide problem thatneeds addresing

  • I am part of a disability forum in my local area (not London) and we often hear about people's problems in getting around.

    Wheelchair users being charged extra by minicab firms as they are told that the only available accessible taxis are minibuses. There are in fact plenty of regular-sized accessible taxis but people with disabilities are often treated with contempt.

    Visually impaired people with guide dogs have immense difficulty using taxis as even pre-booked ones will drive off when they see the dog.

    We don't have the Taxicard scheme and community transport is expensive as the council has cut their grants – I know of one person who spends 60% of her take-home pay getting to and from work. She pays it as she doesn't want to become completely isolated.

    Our local station is being updated for Crossrail but wheelchair users will still need to give 24 hours notice for a ramp from the platform onto the train to be provided – and there are countless complaints about staff not being available to place the pre-booked ramp.

    On the positive side, all bus stops in our area have been or are being raised to enable wheelchair users to get onto buses. However bus services stop around 6pm, so thereafter people have to use taxis.

  • My experience is, of course, Australian where things are both better and worse.

    In the small country town where I live there is a single "MaxiCab" so if it is on an out of town trip you are out of luck. If the van is in town they will generally collect me ASAP.

    Also the Victorian State Government issues me a half-price taxi card on receipt of a GP note so I feel a bit like royalty.

    I also felt rather royal in London with the Black Cabs but my fit, young, strong son was vital.

    On the trains I turn up and the ramp does. In Melbourne I must catch the arriving driver's eye.

    That is the upside. On the other side of the coin the "genuflecting" accessible buses are rare. Nowhere have I ridden for free as I did in London. Could I still?

  • An example of the age-old problem: the people who make funding/planning decisions are never the people who actually NEED these decisions to enable them to live their lives with a degree of dignity.

  • Opposite problem here in Bristol (commenting as anon as I don't want to give my location). All the council hackney cabs that are allowed to pick up from the station, taxi ranks etc have to be wheelchair accessible and so are minivans/buses. Great for wheelchair users but very difficult to use if you are still walking but with impaired mobility – I have fallen into and out of these as the step is too high. I could book a private cab but they're more expensive for short distances and can't get near the station.

    • I share your pain.

      Aside from the ignominy of not being in the front passenger seat like a "normal person" consider being lifted, as if in a wheelchair, to get into the back.

By Alison Thomson



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