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Guide Dogs ‘get the boot’
Ignorance of the law still prevalent in areas

MANY TAXI and private hire drivers still display a frightening level of ignorance when it comes to carrying Guide Dogs, a recent case in Birmingham has revealed.

Two city councillors have called for verbal English tests for would-be taxi drivers to be tightened up after presiding over two "bizarre" licence appeal hearings from would-be cabbies who not only displayed a shocking lack of English language skills, but were also ignorant on key points of law relating to hire vehicles – including the carriage of guide dogs.

The cases both featured drivers who had sailed through the spoken test - but appeared before the councillors with an interpreter because they were unable to speak English.

Hundreds of people applying to drive private hire vehicles in Birmingham were initially turned away after failing a "child's play" test of their ability to communicate in English with a passenger.

The biggest hurdle was a section offering logical replies to questions. Rather than choosing "yes, of course" in a response to a question about whether guide dogs were allowed in the cab, some picked the answer "in the boot".

A spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind Association expressed dismay at the situation in Birmingham, and commented: "For years, guide dog owners have been refused carriage by a minority of taxi and private hire drivers who objected to having guide dogs in their cars. In April 2001, The Disability Discrimination Act prevented drivers of licensed taxis from discriminating in this way. But, the Act did not cover the private hire (minicab) trade, leaving decisions to each local authority.

"The charity launched Access for All in 2000 after it was contacted by large numbers of guide dog owners who told of humiliating and distressing experiences after being left stranded by cab drivers who refused to carry their dogs. Guide Dogs then contacted local authorities to ask them to use their licensing powers to require private hire vehicles to carry guide dogs.

"In 2000 there was no legislation preventing private hire drivers from refusing, on any grounds they choose, to carry guide dogs in their cars. One year on from the launch of this campaign, over 80 per cent of local councils became committed to ending discrimination against guide dog owners.

"Only two years later, and there was great news for guide dog owners who use private hire vehicles, otherwise known as minicabs. The Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs etc) Bill, which was tabled by Neil Gerrard MP and supported throughout by The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, passed all its parliamentary stages.

"The new law will extend the Disability Discrimination Act to make it illegal for minicab drivers to refuse to carry guide dog owners just because they are accompanied by their dogs. Medical exemptions will be available if drivers have a certificate from their GPs, as is the case for licensed taxi drivers, just three of whom have exemptions in the whole of the UK.

"The Bill has become Section 37a of the Disability Discrimination Act and came into force in March 2003.

"Guide Dogs recommends that wherever possible guide dogs owners should try and travel/book an estate car taxi. If this is not possible, the dog and owner should travel in the front of the taxi, and the dog should lie down in the footwell between the owner's legs. Because many cars are now fitted with passenger airbags, guide dogs should remain lying down throughout the journey.

For 'black cabs' in cities, the guide dog and owner should travel in the main passenger compartment and the dog should lie down for the journey."