Recently, there has been a plethora of stories in national and regional press on how guide dog owners have been refused taxi and private hire travel, upon the arrival of the car at the job, or had illegal demands placed upon them, such as that the dog travels in the boot of the taxi.
Such actions by a driver are illegal, under disability discrimination legislation. This not only requires a taxi or private hire driver to carry an assistance animal, but that the animal should travel with its human and not in the boot of the taxi. Anyone to whom this happens should report the incident to the council which issues the taxi driver's licence. If they are not reported, it will never change.
Many councils, like Vale of White Horse here in Oxfordshire, require drivers to satisfactorily pass Disability Awareness Training, within a time period of the granting of a Hackney Carriage driver’s licence. The course is not especially arduous nor does it contain new material, nor even is it that difficult to pass.
Much of it is common sense. I’ve always found the best way is if it becomes apparent someone might need help, then I just ask them “Do you need help?” and if they do, they will gladly tell me exactly what is required. The course does, however, provide an interesting little exercise on how to recognise different types of assistance dogs and an overview of the legal obligations of the taxi driver.
In provincial Oxfordshire, most of my non contract daytime passengers are less mobile or elderly people, for whom an essential service is provided, which enables them to maintain their independence. Daytime passengers are mostly grateful for what we do for them, the night time passengers are of a different hue altogether.
On my first ever Saturday night job from Abingdon to Oxford, I collected six young passengers, in a taxi which years previously had plied for hire on the streets of London. At the Oxford city boundary, one of my passengers announced he had defecated himself in his underwear and could I stop the car. He got out of the taxi, removed his clothing, threw it away, put his trousers back on again and resumed the journey. This was the first time anything like this had happened to me and I was so shocked, I meekly carried on, to a city centre nightclub.
There is this phrase in the English language “dumb animals”, but the reality is animals are better behaved than humans and as sentient beings, they are entitled to respect and our protection.
Any animal which is capable of being safely carried is welcome in my taxi, not just assistance dogs. No animal ever defecated or urinated in my taxi, was sick over my car seats, attempted to attack me, stole from me nor abused me. But, in the last seven years mostly at night, humans have done all of these things - and more.