The committee is requested to approve proposed conditions and changes to the existing policy in relation to the taxi/private hire driving assessment and the wheelchair assessment.
Mr Barson explained that in September 2016 all local authorities were notified that from 1 January 2017 the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) would be withdrawing provision of taxi/private hire driving assessments and wheelchair assessments. The council’s licensing team have since identified two alternative assessors offering a similar service to the DVSA; Blue Lamp Trust and First Castle School of Motoring. Mr Barson explained that due to a lack of suitably trained assessors it has been difficult to find a wheelchair assessment provider.
Mr Barson outlined the council’s proposed policy amendments notably section 14 of the Driver and Vehicle General Policy, section one of the Private Hire Driver Policy and section one of Hackney Carriage Policy. Additional conditions require private hire (PH) drivers with seven or more points on their driving licence to retake their driver assessment and PH drivers driving or intending to drive a wheelchair accessible vehicle to complete a wheelchair assessment.
Ms Di Lauro explained that under the Equality Act 2010 sections 165/166 a driver has a duty to carry passengers who are wheelchair users unless the licensing authority has issued the driver with an exemption under section 167. Drivers are not required to provide a modified vehicle, therefore the above sections apply only to designated vehicles. Drivers can be prosecuted for breach of section 165 which is a criminal offence if they do not comply with the duty and do not have a certificate of exemption.
(Mr Wakeham arrived and Mrs Purnell left whilst officers were answering questions).
Mr Ridd asked whether the new assessment providers will be assessed. Mr Foord explained that the DVSA will approve assessors but will not provide accreditation. Mr Barson added that the council must give due consideration to assessment by alternative providers subject to appropriate requirements being met. If a driver is assessed by an unknown provider officers carry out checks through the DVSA online register and follow up where appropriate.
Members discussed the availability of wheelchair accessible vehicles and drivers turning down fares for wheelchair users. Mr Barson confirmed that the districts Hackney Carriage fleet of around 50 vehicles is entirely wheelchair accessible. The 200 PH vehicles are however predominately saloon cars. Mr Foord explained that, to the best knowledge of the council, there are infrequent refusals to carry wheelchair passengers as most drivers abide by their duty (excluding those who hold an appropriate exemption). All complaints are investigated and where appropriate referred to a General Licensing Sub-Committee. In some cases the driver will be required to retake a wheelchair assessment to ensure they are confident in loading and unloading a wheelchair. Mr Foord explained that officers suggest to customers to pre-book where possible to guarantee the type of vehicle provided is appropriate.
Mr Thomas asked whether drivers charge a premium to transport a wheelchair user. Ms Di Lauro confirmed that operating a different charging structure would be discrimination and a breach of the Equalities Act 2010.
Following the discussion members were in agreement with the proposals.
That the proposed conditions and changes to the existing policy in relation to the taxi/private hire driving assessment and the wheelchair assessment be approved.