Wheelchair users call for more accessible taxis in the Highlands

Wheelchair users in the Highlands are calling for an increase in the availability of accessible taxis. 

Just 32 taxis in the Highland Council area - which covers a third of Scotland's land - can be used by wheelchair users. 

In Glasgow every black cab is capable of taking passengers in wheelchairs.

Highland Council, which licenses taxis and private hire cares, said it had no power to impose accessibility requirements. 

Catherine Aitken, of Inverness, is among those who have been affected by the shortage of suitable taxis.

She told BBC Scotland's The Nine on one occasion she had made bookings at a restaurant and for a taxi 10 days in advance, but the taxi never arrived to take her home and she was unable to get another one.

"My friend wheeled me home in my wheelchair," Ms Aitken said.

"Luckily it was not too far, but had he not been there I would have been stuck in the middle of Inverness on my own."

How many taxis are there in the Highlands? 

Highland Council said as of January this year there were 474 taxi operator licences and 167 private hire car operator licences across the local authority's area. 

It said of this number, 21 taxi operators and 11 private hire car operators were wheelchair accessible.

The issue is one that has also struck a chord with Andrew Jarvie, a councillor for Wick and East Caithness and a campaigner on mobility issues. 

He said trying to get a suitable taxi in the region was like "trudging through custard".

But there is a "very clear solution", the Highlands Conservatives councillor says. 

"Dundee, for example, brought in a policy that said from this point on there are no more taxis that aren't accessible will be allowed to be licensed."

Compare to Glasgow

Meanwhile a charity, Partnerships for Wellbeing, is running a pilot project using a second-hand wheelchair-accessible taxi.

Manager Jeff Zycinski said the charity had been shocked by the level of interest from potential customers after word of the vehicle spread.

He said the lack of provision in the region was astonishing.

Mr Zycinski added: "Compare that with a city like Glasgow where every black cab is capable of taking disabled passengers in wheelchairs." 

Highland Council said it had no direct power to impose requirements that taxis or private hire car operators provided a minimum number of accessible taxis or private hire cars at a given time.

A spokeswoman said the Equality Act 2010 provided the local authority with some indirect powers to try and tackle the issue, but it did not currently make it mandatory that all taxis and private hire vehicles were wheelchair accessible. 

She added: "However, section 167 of the 2010 Act has recently been amended to require licensing authorities to maintain a list of all wheelchair accessible vehicles that are licensed to operate within their area. These vehicles are known as 'designated' vehicles. 

"This requirement will come into force over the summer and a report will be put to the Highland licensing committee to implement that in due course."