In many ways the message is getting through to taxi drivers that, unless they have a medical exemption certificate approved by their licencing office, it is against the law for them to refuse a person with an assistance dog. However, another trend appears to be emerging which I find almost as difficult, particularly as the drivers aren’t actually breaking the law. This is the fact that a driver will accept my booking but will then spend the journey telling me why he doesn’t want to take my dog, or in the worst instances, actually be abusive.
A week or so ago I had to take a fairly expensive taxi journey to hospital as my guide dog wasn’t able to work and because it was a very windy day, I didn’t feel confident enough to do it with my cane. The driver asked me if I was a regular with his company and also whether I found the drivers helpful. I said that I was and that the drivers were usually very helpful, but less so if I had my guide dog with me. He then launched into a big tirade about why he didn’t like taking guide dogs because of the hair. I pointed out that people shed hair and mud but he wasn’t listening. He felt hard done by because the law says he has to carry guide dogs in his personal car. I wanted to argue that this car was in fact his work vehicle but there was no point. He wanted to have his say, I felt uncomfortable and my dog was at home, snoozing, blissfully unaware of the problems he was causing!
Last night, my husband and I booked a taxi to take us home from an evening with friends. When we made the booking, we advised the taxi company that there would be two adults and a guide dog travelling. We are not obliged to tell the company but always do out of courtesy. The taxi arrived and our friend walked out with us to say goodbye. The driver turned to him and asked him if we were both travelling, to which we said yes. He then asked if we’d told them that there would be a dog. We said we had. At this point, he raised his voice at me and said “Get that dog in the back”, meaning the back of the estate car. I did as he demanded and we got in the car and were taken home. The driver was driving very erratically, almost missing a turning and taking it on what felt like two wheels and generally swerving all over the road. I don’t mind admitting that I was scared and glad to get out.
My point is this. It could be argued that the driver accepted our booking so did not break the law, he got us home and did not over charge us. However, is it really OK to talk to customers in that way and make demands of us, just because he doesn’t want to take the dog? If he’d said “Please could you put your dog in the back of the car”, I’d have said “yes certainly” and it would have been fine. I appreciate that some drivers who have estate cars prefer the dog to travel in the back. I do, however, resent being shouted at and made to feel uncomfortable when I am actually paying for a service.
I am lucky in that my local taxi licencing authority are very supportive and they have asked for me to report instances like this as well as refusals. I would urge others to do the same. Report everything. Without evidence, taxi drivers will continue to treat blind and partially sighted people less favourably, just because they have a dog.