Taxi Driver Prosecuted for Subjecting Disabled Passenger to Additional Fare

taxisThe Equality Act 2010 affords important rights to disabled people in employment and other fields, but less well known is the fact that it also created new criminal offences. A case on point concerned a taxi driver who switched on his meter before loading a would-be passenger’s wheelchair into his vehicle.

The driver was at the head of a cab rank when a wheelchair user and her assistant hailed him. They objected when he activated his meter before unlocking the cab’s wheelchair ramp. An altercation ensued and police were called to the scene before the women were taken to their destination by another taxi.

The wheelchair user complained and the driver was subsequently convicted of making an additional charge for carrying a disabled passenger, contrary to Section 165(7) of the Act. He received a 12-month conditional discharge and was ordered to pay £1,000 in costs and £75 in compensation to each of the women.

Challenging the conviction, the driver pointed out that the women had not entered his cab and no money had changed hands. He argued that he had thus not demanded payment from them. That would only have happened at the end of their journey and, as there had been no journey, there could be no offence.

Dismissing his appeal, however, the High Court found that Parliament could not have intended that taxi drivers would only be criminally liable if they overcharged a disabled passenger at the end of a journey. The charge was made when the driver turned on his meter, and he committed the offence when he did so prematurely.

The Court observed that, if that were not the case, an unscrupulous taxi driver would be able to avoid his duty to carry disabled passengers, and to assist them if needed, by quoting an inflated fare upon being hailed, knowing that it would not be accepted, and would then be free to drive off in search of a non-disabled fare.

Equally, if the driver’s arguments were correct, a dishonest taxi driver who put an additional charge on the meter in the hope that a disabled customer did not spot it could escape criminal liability if he did not demand the additional amount in the event that the passenger did notice.