Taxi licences: Mixed reaction to proposals to improve disabled-friendly travel in Harrogate
Plans to tackle a decline in disabled-friendly travel by introducing an unlimited number of taxi licences have been met with a mixed reaction from Harrogate cabbies and campaigners.
Harrogate Borough Council's licensing committee will this Thursday (10 June) be asked to remove a limit on licences and make all new plates available to wheelchair accessible vehicles only after complaints that disabled people have been “cut off from society” because of a lack of travel options.
The move has been welcomed by campaigners who hope it will put an end to "the inequality that the current system imposes," while cabbies have warned unlimited licences would lead to "deregulation" in the taxi trade.
Jackie Snape, chief executive of Disability Action Yorkshire, said the charity has long campaigned for a solution to the problem which has caused "social isolation and frustration" for disabled people.
She said: “Whilst in recent years many of our cities and towns have increased their numbers of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs), the exact opposite has been occurring across the Harrogate district.
"This is despite an increasing demand, which sadly has led to a real problem for local disabled people.
“Disabled people go to work, have medical appointments and go shopping just the same as non-disabled people, but with the difference being that many are reliant on others for their transport.
"The impact of not being able to get a taxi on the same basis as a non-disabled person should not be under-estimated.”
Meanwhile, Richard Fieldman, who runs A1 Cars of Ripon and Harrogate, said going through with the proposal would be a "big mistake" as more licences would mean the supply of taxis would outstrip demand.
He said: "I'm rather surprised they want to introduce an unlimited number of licences - it will have a massive impact on the trade because it will mean every man and his dog can get one.
"This isn't about throwing a load of plates out there, this is about what is fair to the existing trade which has planned a lot of money and time into this."
Harrogate Borough Council has restricted the number of taxi licences to 148 for around 30 years which in effect has meant the only way to acquire a licence is to buy an existing vehicle from someone.
In September last year, the licensing committee agreed to double the number of licences designated for wheelchair-accessible taxis from 11 to 23 after a study concluded disabled people were suffering from a “great deal of anxiety” over worries they could not get around.
However, the council has since run into difficulties over creating a "fair and lawful" system to distribute just 12 additional licences.
Dean Richardson, head of safer communities at the council, said in a report to Thursday's meeting: "It became apparent to officers that it would not be straightforward to design a fair allocation system which would not be susceptible to legal challenge by disappointed applicants."
He added: "In the Harrogate district, wheelchair users have been facing increasing difficulty obtaining wheelchair-accessible licensed vehicles' services.
"WAVs are vital in allowing users to access essential services and for them to live their lives as anyone else would."
The recommendation to committee members on Thursday is to remove the limit on licences with all future licences to be designated as WAV plates.
If approved, the changes would be reviewed within five years.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter