A PRIVATE hire taxi driver left a blind woman stranded after he refused to allow her guide dog into his cab, saying that as a Muslim, the dog was ‘unclean’ and offended his religious beliefs.
Abdul Rasheed Majekodumni of west London was booked to take Mrs Jane Vernon to her home in Hammersmith after she had appeared on the BBC's Newsnight programme late on the evening of October 13th 2005.
Islamic tradition warns Muslims against contact with dogs because they are seen as impure.
The case emerged as former senior Labour MP Jack Straw was embroiled in a controversy over Muslim women wearing veils and the row continued after a Muslim police officer was excused guard duty at the Israeli embassy.
Mrs Vernon, 39, who works as a Legal Officer for the Royal National Institute for the Blind said: ‘This experience was very upsetting. I was tired and cold and just wanted to get home but this driver made me feel like I was a second-class citizen, like I didn't count at all.’
She added: ‘The owner of the minicab firm, Niven Sinclair, was also very insensitive, telling me that what had happened to me wasn't really very important, and I should have more respect for other people's culture. They have shown very little respect for my rights as a disabled person and have never once offered me an apology.’
Niven's and Co Cab Company, is contracted by the BBC and the minicab was sent to take her home from a studio after she was invited to appear on the News 24 programme that evening.
Magistrates at Marylebone fined Majekodumni £200 and ordered him to pay £1,200 for failing to comply with regulations set out under the Disability Discrimination Act.
After the case Majekodunmi remained defiant and insisted that he would continue refusing to carry passengers accompanied by guide dogs.
Bill Alker, who works with Jane Vernon at the RNIB supporting other victims of discrimination, said: ‘Jane and I have worked together for about 16 months advising and supporting people who have suffered the same crime.
‘It is absolutely wrong and must stop. Many drivers, cab company operators and the authorities that provide licences are together flouting a good law that was introduced to help blind and partially sighted people get about more independently.’
Drivers who refuse to take a guide dog can lose their licence or get a fine of up to £1,000 but Mr Alker said cases rarely went to court.
‘Victims must have the support of the area licensing authority who have the power to bring a prosecution or discipline the driver,’ he said. ‘So many drivers flout the law and get away with it.’
By coincidence, this month Jane Vernon supported another blind woman who was refused a taxi ride to take the case to court. Bernie Reddington, 37, had asked driver Basir Miah, a Muslim, to drive her home after a hospital appointment at Great Ormond Street but he had refused, calling her dog ‘dirty’.
Horseferry magistrates court found him guilty of breaching the terms of his licence and fined him £150 plus £250 compensation.
Mrs Vernon said: ‘We need to encourage other licensing authorities around the country to start taking these incidents more seriously. Many blind people rely on taxis to get around. Not being able to get access to this kind of service is completely wrong and can affect their independence and confidence. In many cases this causes real problems in their work, educational and social life.’
Discrimination Down Under
A similar situation is escalating in Australia too. Muslim taxi drivers were facing discrimination complaints in Melbourne after refusing to carry blind people with guide dogs on the ground that it violated Islamic teachings.
At least 20 dog-aided blind people have lodged discrimination complaints with the Victorian Taxi Directorate. Dozens more have voiced their anger.
Victorian Taxi Association spokesman Neil Sach said the association had appealed to the mufti of Melbourne to give religious approval for Muslim cabbies to carry guide dogs.
One Muslim driver, Imran, was reported as saying that the guide dog issue was difficult for him.
‘I don't refuse to take people, but it's hard for me because my religion tells me I should not go near dogs,’ he said.
There are about 2000 Muslims among drivers of Melbourne's 10,000 taxis. Many are from countries with strict Islamic teachings about ‘unclean'' dogs.
Drivers who refused to carry blind people with their dogs attended remedial classes at Guide Dogs Victoria, Mr Sach said.
‘They are taught why blind people need dogs,’ Mr Sach said.
‘The Victorian Taxi Association has included a program in their taxi driver training program.’
Guide Dogs Victoria spokeswoman Holly Marquette said blind people regularly reported taxi drivers refusing to carry them because of their dogs.
‘It's sad and quite upsetting,’ Ms Marquette said. ‘We try to work with new drivers to educate them about their responsibilities and the needs and rights of blind people. We explain that the dog is clean, well trained, won't go near them and will stay in the foot well with the client. But it's a high turnover industry and it's hard to capture everyone.’
Under the State Government's customer charter, taxi passengers have the right to ‘be accompanied by a guide dog or hearing dog’.
Over the past two years the licences of 306 drivers were revoked or suspended, including those who refused to carry the blind and their dogs.
UK Taxi Driver Disciplined In Guide Dog Row
A TAXI driver from Rye, East Sussex has also been disciplined for refusing to carry a blind passenger and his guide dog.
The driver, who was not named, was given nine penalty points on his hackney carriage drivers' record when he appeared before Rother District Council's Taxi and Private Hire Licensing Panel last week.
He risks losing his licence if he reaches 12 points in a 12-month period.
Following the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, taxi drivers are required to take guide, hearing and other assistance dogs unless they have an exemption from doing so.
The blind complainant gave evidence to the panel via a telephone link that enabled council members to ask questions about the complaint without him needing to attend in person. This was the first time such a system had been used by the Council for hearing evidence.
The council adopted the penalty points scheme in August last year.
Points are awarded for infringement of the rules and conditions of licence which aims to ensure taxi driver provide a safe and efficient service to the public.
Chairman of the Licensing Panel Councillor Christopher Starnes said: ‘We have a good relationship with the hackney carriage and private hire trade. However, this case demonstrates that if we receive a complaint we will investigate it thoroughly and take the appropriate action.
‘It also emphasises the need for the trade to be aware of and comply fully with the rules and regulations. Failure to do so could put their livelihood at risk.’