THE owner of a Teesside taxi firm has made a U-turn over a refusal to carry disabled passengers, following a public outcry.
Mohammed Bashir, who owns Middlesbrough’s Boro Taxis, had said it was “uneconomic” to send eight-seater vehicles to pick up disabled customers if it had to charge the same price as it did for a smaller four-door vehicle.
The decision caused an outcry on social media, with Facebook pages set up urging people to boycott the firm and criticism from Paralympic athlete Tanni Grey-Thompson, who lives in Eaglescliffe, on Twitter.
Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald also called the move “appalling” and “chilling in the extreme”.
And UKIP Disabilities spokeswoman Sian Etheridge, herself a wheelchair user, has written to the council asking for Boro’s licence to be revoked.
Now, in a statement on its Facebook page, Boro Taxis has said it will subsidise drivers who pick up wheelchair users.
It said: “Mohammed Bashir and the other directors of Boro Cars are concerned that there is a public misconception of the problems for private hire operators of operating wheelchair accessible vehicles.”
The firm said minibus drivers expect to be paid fares around twice as much as drivers operating cars. But charging disabled people more would break the Equality Act.
“Boro Cars do not believe that the drivers should bear the responsibility and cost in the circumstances”, the statement said.
It called on the local council to pay the difference but will cover the cost in the meantime.
Mr Bashir’s comments came after Middlesbrough Council warned taxi companies in the town that it was against the law under the Equality Act to charge more for disabled passengers.
Middlesbrough’s deputy mayor, councillor Dave Budd, said: “This issue was raised in a report to the council’s licensing committee following complaints that a number of private hire businesses in the town were operating differential pricing policies for wheelchair users and the disabled.
“This is in clear contravention of the Equality Act 2010, but rather than take legal action we felt it more appropriate in the first instance to remind all operators in the town of their obligations under the legislation.
“That prompted one operator to announce they would no longer provide a service for some disabled passengers, although I am pleased that this threatened withdrawal has now been removed.
“Middlesbrough Council is always happy to talk to the taxi trade to ensure the best possible service for all users, but it should go without saying that issues of equality are not open to discussion or negotiation.”