MH, was in attendance with his Solicitor ML together with the complainant KT & SP.
The Chair welcomed and led introductions.
The Enforcement Officer presented the report and summarised the complaint received alleging that MH, hackney carriage driver, had refused or neglected to take a child wheelchair passenger in the company of her mother and her carer from Temple Meads (TM) Station, Bristol on the 29th November 2017.
All those present with Committee viewed CCTV footage of events.
Highlights from the officer report:
· That drivers are expected to make themselves proficient in using equipment in their vehicle that allows a wheelchair to be carried
· That the Gold Standard test provides general information but because of the different makes and models of vehicles the onus is on the driver to identify the mechanisms in their particular vehicle to complete the training.
· That Bristol is one of the few LA’s in the country that requires all Hackney Cabs to be wheelchair compliant. 100% of the hackney cab fleet are wheelchair accessible.
· Officers determined from the interview under caution that MH had limited knowledge on the mechanism to adapt his vehicle to take the wheelchair.
The Committee put questions for clarification to the Enforcement Officer and MH’s Solicitor was invited to do the same.
The complainant KT & SP were invited to present their complaint to Committee.
· KT mother and SP the carer of child had travelled from Wiltshire by train to attend a performance at the Hippodrome. On arriving at TM station they went to the front of the queue of taxis and requested to be taken to the Hippodrome. They approach MH who said that he could not take them as he did not have a ramp and that his vehicle was too big. They then went to other drivers looking for assistance because they assumed, as was the case in Wiltshire that not all Taxis were accessible. KT removed her daughter from the scene whilst these conversations were happening until eventually a driver further down the rank agreed to assist. MH assisted this driver make the necessary adaptions to the taxi to take the wheelchair. On leaving TM the driver who transported the complainants pointed out that all taxis carried the accessibility sign and that they should not refuse to carry a wheelchair. At this point they were upset, cold and late for the performance at the Hippodrome.
The Chair invited the committee to put questions for clarity to the complainants.
The Chair then invited MH’s solicitor to address the complaint that MH refused or neglected to take the fare without reasonable excuse.
· MH did not refuse to take the fare but understood the request to be for a London type hackney carriage to fit the wheelchair.
· MH had made every effort to assist the family by sourcing an alternative vehicle
· That the CCTV evidenced the assistance provided to the family by MH
· That MH believed that he provided assistance and had reasonable excuse based on the request for specific type of vehicle therefore not a refusal.
The Chair invited all parties to withdraw to allow for Committee to consider the complaint and make a decision.
The Members considered very carefully all the written and verbal evidence presented together with the CCTV footage.
They noted their Policy and the offence committed by MH.
Following a lengthy debate on whether MH actions constituted a breach of section 53 TPCA 1847 it was concluded that on a balance of probabilities MH had neglected to take the fare and that he did not have a reasonable excuse to refuse the fare.
The committee resolved that MH neglected to take the fare without reasonable excuse which was akin to an offence under section 53 TPCA 1847.
The parties returned to the room and the decision was shared.
The Committee invited MH to present mitigation before consideration was given to what action, if any, should be taken in respect of MH’s HC driver’s licence.
MH’s Solicitor made a mitigation statement
· Extending apologies to the complainant
· That MH did assist the complainant find a taxi
· That MH was married with a family and supported them from the income as a taxi driver
· That MH would benefit from further training
· That MH sanctions should be one that conditions but not revoke his licence
The parties left the room to allow Committee to deliberate on the appropriate sanction.
i. That MH’s HC Driver’s licence be suspended for a period of 4 months on the grounds contained in section 61(1)(i)(a) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 in that there had been a failure to comply with the provisions of the Act of 1847 and section 61(1)(b) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 namely “any other reasonable cause”
Reasons for Decision:
I. That the Council was entitled to expect high standards from those whom it licenced and the conduct of MH fell well below those standards thereby bringing the Council into disrepute.
II. The conduct was akin to an offence of neglect to take a fare contrary to section 53 TPCA 1847 and the starting point under the Council’s policy on offending behaviour was to impose a period of suspension of 6 months
III. The Council had regard to its’ public sector equality duties under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 and therefore the neglect to transport a child in a wheelchair was an aggravating feature
IV. All taxis bear the logo that they are fully accessible although MH clearly lacked the knowledge on how to load a wheelchair passenger and was not familiar with the mechanism in his vehicle to facilitate wheelchair access
V. MH did however seek to facility the journey which was a mitigating factor in his favour.
VI. That at the time MH did not know how to perform the adaptations to take a wheelchair passenger. The Committee therefore accepted that the conduct arose out of ignorance rather than a deliberate refusal to take the fare. However, it is the responsibility of all licensees to ensure that their vehicles are suitably equipped and that they are fully aware as to how to load and secure a wheelchair. It is part of their Gold Standard training. MH’s lack of knowledge to load the wheelchair was therefore unacceptable.
VII. It was recommended that MH undertake additional training on the Equalities Duty and how to deal with passengers with protected characteristics.
The parties returned to the room and the decision was shared.