Bal is a post graduate student at Staffordshire University, disability activist, former President of their Student Union and has Generalised Dystomia.
In this blog Bal shares her campaign story to ensure taxi fares charge the same for all and how she helped change the law.
In 2015 I led a campaign to highlight the disgracefully high taxi fares that disabled people often face. It was stunningly successful; the law was changed, and bad practice prosecuted. But since then it appears taxi firms in my home town have blacklisted me.
Since moving out of home and becoming a student, taxi drivers have been a thorn in my side. I soon discovered that I was being charged significantly more for taxi journeys around the city than my non-wheelchair user friends, this moved me to act. I took part in undercover filming with BBC’s Inside Out which highlighted this existing national problem in a regional city setting. As a result of this, the law was changed. I then used this amended law by reporting the driver of a wheelchair accessible taxi to the local council’s Licensing department for refusing to take me to the train station. This driver was then successfully prosecuted and fined by the Magistrates Court.
A victory for wheelchair users
However, for me personally, because I was the public face of the case for the prosecution, not so much. I feel like I have been blacklisted in Stoke. I find it impossible to book a taxi using my own name, (a task that seems to be easy for my non-disabled friends), with the taxi operators always saying that there are no available wheelchair accessible taxis when I give them my name.
Am I being paranoid? Well, when I wanted to go to the cinema with a mate, I rang to book a taxi; after being told by seven different companies that there were no wheelchair accessible taxis available I asked my friend to use her phone to try and book a taxi under a different name. She rang the first company that I had tried and they sent a vehicle straight away.
This is not a one-off event. Another example since the court case included not being able to attend a friend’s birthday meal. All the taxi companies that I called said that they had no accessible taxis available and, as I was alone, I couldn’t get anyone else to book the taxi for me. This left me with fear of missing out . On a recent night out, I was turned down by 15 taxis, despite using a small manual wheelchair that would fit in any car boot. Eventually after an hour in the cold and rain, a taxi agreed to take us.
Things like this stop me from living my life the way I want to
In a wider context taxi drivers overcharging or refusing to take people like me, prevents wheelchair users from living life with the same level of freedom as non-disabled people. Recently I was quoted £35 by one taxi driver and £10 by another on the same taxi rank, the disparity is shocking and has obvious financial implications. I have previously been quoted £55 for a 1-mile journey after a night out when the going rate for that trip is only £10 for everybody else.
Before I was involved with the court case I used taxis a lot more than I do now because they were reliable and on time and, the flexibility and convenience that they gave me was far preferable to using the bus service. However, since the court case I have had to change the way that I plan my journeys and my social life. I try not to let it stop me doing what I want to do, but in some instances, I simply have to change my plans and stay home because I have no way of getting where I want to be, especially at night. This really infuriates me as I feel I am being targeted. I know that some people may say that I have brought this on myself, I don’t feel that I should have had to accept being discriminated against for being a wheelchair user.
Of course, I’m not alone in experiencing discrimination when travelling. Disability equality charity Scope have recently found that 40% of disabled people often experience issues or difficulties when travelling by rail in the UK and 25% of disabled people say negative attitudes from other passengers prevent them from using public transport. Although campaigning for equality has had some negative repercussions I will always continue to fight for fair and equal treatment with taxis and in all other aspects of life too.
This is a shout out to all taxi companies in Stoke on Trent, please let me know if you have got any wheelchair taxis that will be willing to take me and my friends and not overcharge us. After all I just want to be treated like everybody else.
We know there is still work to do until all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness, with transport playing a huge part in this. We all need to work together to change society for the better.
There’s something everyone can do to be a Disability Gamechanger so get involved in the campaign today to end this inequality.