For many disabled people, taxis are a lifeline. They offer people who cannot drive or who struggle to use public transport an easy way to get about.
In a competitive market, making your taxi service accessible and welcoming to disabled people could help you win new and repeat customers.
Read on for our tips on how to keep all your customers happy and safe, and how to ensure your vehicles and passengers are covered by taxi fleet insurance.
The law is clear: it’s illegal for taxi drivers to discriminate against disabled customers.
They must make “reasonable adjustments” to ensure their service is accessible to all, including offering physical assistance where necessary. Failure to do so risks penalties including large fines and loss of your licence to operate.
Drivers can obtain medical exemption certificates, for example if they are physically unable to load wheelchairs or are allergic to dogs. These must be clearly displayed on their vehicles.
However, these are merely legal minimums. To go above and beyond, you need to think about all aspects of your business, from ordering a cab to clear communications.
How do people book cabs with your fleet? Can they order by Minicom or textphone? How about internet or app bookings?
If people have to book cabs with you by standard telephone, you risk losing custom to the more innovative players in the taxi market.
In larger cities, firms like Uber enable customers to order by app instead of by phone. They also offer adapted cars and special assistance for people with disabilities.
So if you operate in a large city, or another area where there’s competition, it makes business sense for you to invest in technology and vehicles that aid people with disabilities.
Remember to ensure your level of taxi fleet insurance is sufficient to cover any investments you make in your firm.
In many cities, the local authority will only license hackney carriages that are wheelchair accessible.
That means a ramp to access the vehicle, a large body, and a means of securing the wheelchair in transit.
It also means drivers offering physical assistance to wheelchair users at no extra cost.
Some passengers prefer to remain in their wheelchairs for the duration of the journey, while others want help transferring to a seat.
While your drivers help passengers to access and settle in the cab, they should not be running the meter.
Minicabs may be too small to allow passengers to remain in their wheelchairs. However, if you usually charge more for larger vehicles in your fleet, you should allow wheelchair users to travel in them for the lower rate.
Some vehicles can even take the smaller models of mobility scooter. If you can offer this service, it helps your company stand out from the crowd and attract new customers.
Taxi fleet insurance can cover fleets containing different types of vehicle.
The law is very clear here: taxis must take blind or deaf people and their assistance dogs, with no extra charge for the animals.
However, some 42% of people surveyed by the Guide Dogs charity said they had been refused access to a taxi or minicab in the previous year because of their dogs.
Some drivers believe dogs will be unhygienic or fear they will cause mayhem in the car. However, guide dogs are trained to be perfectly behaved in vehicles, so there’s really no excuse. They should, however, remain on the floor and under control at all times.
Don’t risk a court case, a large fine and reputational damage – make sure all your drivers understand the law and welcome assistance dogs.
Increasingly, licensed hackney carriages are offering induction loops to assist those with hearing aids, and intercoms to help the driver and passengers hear one another.
It’s always wise for drivers to keep their music on low and speak clearly. It’s harder to hear over the sound of an engine and as it’s impossible to lip read from the back seat, drivers should communicate with customers before they set off.
If you want to give your firm a competitive edge, how about offering your drivers deaf awareness training and a brief introduction to sign language?
Just knowing a few welcoming phrases can go a long way to building a rapport with deaf customers, ensuring they pick your firm for their next trip and enhancing your reputation.
Also – don’t forget that it’s not always possible to tell by looking at someone that they have hearing loss. Clear communication is always vital.
This very broad group of people is in some ways the hardest to assist, because it’s often not about modifications to your vehicles – it’s about changing your drivers’ behaviour.
Things which are mere annoyances to many passengers – such as drivers turning up late, deviating from standard routes, or talking brusquely – can be bewildering to those with certain hidden disabilities or conditions, such as learning disabilities, autism and anxiety.
So encourage your drivers to be patient, explain things clearly and follow standard procedures. Make sure they don’t pick up their own mates en route and don’t hold long phone conversations while passengers are in their cabs, as this can be alarming.
Also consider getting specialist training to help your drivers understand people with disabilities, hidden or otherwise. It will make journeys smoother and pleasanter for everyone.
As a taxi business, you want to ensure all passengers are welcome and safe in your fleet.
Taxi Insurer is a specialist insurer covering fleets containing black cabs, minicabs, minibuses and a mix of vehicles across the UK.
With a 24-hour claims management service and a UK-based call centre, we take pride in offering a great service to all fleets of three or more vehicles.
Contact us today and let our specialist team help you find the right policy to cover your unique business.