PROPOSALS for an adapted rear-loading taxi for the disabled have sparked a debate on safe usage of ranks in central Worthing.
Cab driver Trevor Fenton-Goss has requested a licence for a converted Peugeot Partner van designed specifically for wheelchair users.
His plans were greeted with cautious approval by members of the council’s licensing committee.
But Worthing Taxi Association has lodged an objection, claiming rear-loading vehicles would take up too much space on already limited ranks. It also argued it would represent a health and safety hazard for taxi drivers attempting to assist passengers.
As a result, committee members debated the issue for more than an hour and a half, with wheelchair-user, councillor Norah Fisher, highlighting a shortage of hackney taxis from Worthing’s central ranks.
In an unusual move, Mr Fenton-Goss invited Mrs fisher to a demonstration of the vehicle during a break in the meeting. She described it positively as being “comfortable” and said she would be willing to use such a vehicle regularly.
Mr Fenton-Goss said: “The general public don’t seem to like the bigger (side-loading) taxis which are also used for the disabled now, so by having a smaller vehicle such as the Peugeot Partner, we would be being more environmentally friendly. They can also be fitted with a winch to help people on board the taxi.”
He added: “This would give wheelchair users in an electric chair chance to travel in my taxi, as with side-loading only vehicles we cannot load at Worthing Station and need to push the wheelchairs into the road in order to get them on, which cannot be safe.”
Expressing concern, Paul Rogers, of Worthing Taxi Association, believed side-loading vehicles, which have disabled passengers facing backwards, were the safest services for disabled customers. He said: “Our main concerns centre on the fact there’s not room for such vehicles on our town centre ranks and there is also not the demand for them as hackney carriages. There does not seem to have been any risk assessment done regarding this, so this must be an issue of health and safety.”
Frustrated by the issue, Mrs Fisher said she was aware of disabled people being treated poorly at taxi ranks in the area. She said there were a number of instances in which “taxis just drive off” when they realised there was a disabled customer at the ranks. In her opinion, improving services with vehicles such as that proposed would be a welcome move.
Sharing her optimism, councillor Michael Cloake said he would like to see all taxis with access for disabled passengers. He believed Mr-Fenton-Goss’s application had potential, subject to passing council risk assessment tests.
The council is now carrying out tests on the vehicle on its ranks, before making a final decision on the application.
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