New taxis in Welwyn Hatfield will have to be wheelchair accessible

New taxis in Welwyn Hatfield will have to be wheelchair accessible. Picture: Pexels

New taxis in Welwyn Hatfield will have to be wheelchair accessible. Picture: Pexels - Credit: Archant

New taxis operating in Welwyn Hatfield will need to be wheelchair accessible with effect from October 1 2020.

The changes were unanimously agreed by councillors last week following a consultation process with local residents, local and national disability groups and the taxi trade.

The consultation took place from January to March 2019, over 750 people were contacted as part of the consultation process, with a response of approximately 60 per cent.

The majority of the public who took part in the consultation were for the conditions, however the majority of the trade were against them.

Under the revised licensing conditions, all new taxis in the borough will need to be able to carry up to four passengers in addition to a person using a wheelchair.

The Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs) will be clearly identified by a distinctive silver livery.

Existing taxis will need to be replaced after eight years and become WAVs.

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Over time the whole fleet will eventually be WAVs.

Councillor Fiona Thomson, executive member for public health, said: “This is very welcome news for our residents with limited mobility and also their friends and family they may travel with. By making taxis accessible to wheelchair users, they will be able to enjoy the freedom and flexibility to chose when they want to travel and where they want to travel around the borough.”

Richard Bunday, a representative of the Welwyn and Hatfield Rank Association, said: “The proposed changes will have a negative effect on both customers and drivers alike especially during the current economic climate.

“Drivers cannot afford to upgrade their vehicles and will be forced to obtain their licences from other districts. Many drivers have defected already to districts such as London PH (TfL) and Wolverhampton Taxi where WHBC have no jurisdiction.

“Drivers licensed by other districts will no longer be able to pick up fares from the ranks of Welwyn Hatfield and will create a deficit of available taxis to hail for all types of customers including those in wheelchairs.

“It will also create a loss of revenue for the council. With no taxis on the rank, customers will be forced to use alternatives such as Uber and in time, this will become the norm.”

Mr Bunday also believes that passengers will lose out, not just from the depleted number of vehicles on the rank, but with the lack of variety.

He added: “There will no longer be executive cars, estate cars or 6/8 seaters. The proposed WAVs, which meet all the current criteria of WHBC, are transit size and many passengers, especially the elderly, cannot get into these vehicles. Most WAVs are side loading which means that wheelchair passengers cannot alight when there are cars parked on both sides of the road resulting in them being dropped far from their desired destination.

“Of course, we believe, that WAVs should be available within the borough but this is the wrong way to achieve this. The new proposal could, in time, create no taxis at all.”