Taxi firm invests £150k in wheelchair-friendly cabs and staff training
A DERBY carers' charity has called on taxi companies to invest in wheelchair-accessible vehicles to fill the void left by the city council scrapping a door-to-door transport service to save cash.
Mike Smith, chairman of Mickleover Carers' Group, and a wheelchair-user himself, said disabled people were often left "feeling isolated" by a lack of transport options.
He spoke out as one city taxi firm, 75 Taxis, announced it had spent about £150,000 on setting up a replacement service.
The firm has bought two minibus-style vehicles and modified 20 of its 100-strong cab fleet to be wheelchair accessible.
It is also providing its staff with training in how to work with disabled customers.
Mr Smith said it was important more similar services were developed across the city after the council cut the remaining funding for its Door2Door community transport service in March last year.
He said: "They used to provide a service to each area of Derby once a week in specialist vans, taking people to the supermarket, the city centre, to Rams games.
"Their answer to the service going was for disabled people to get taxis but there weren't enough that were wheelchair-accessible.
"Most buses these days are wheelchair accessible but that doesn't help if you don't live near a bus stop."
Mr Smith said he felt extra training for taxi drivers was a good idea.
He said: "Sometimes when you travel in a taxi it's like a white-knuckle ride.
"But I noticed with the 75 Taxis drivers that it became a lot smoother after they'd had their training."
Diane Finney, operations manager of Ashbourne Road-based 75 Taxis, said the firm was previously not offering a good enough service to the disabled.
She said: "It's business, we can't operate at a loss, but at the same time we want to offer more of a service.
"I think all taxi firms should be trying to do the same thing."
Director and owner Mohammad Yasin said the cost of making changes to his firm was about £150,000.
A city council spokeswoman said that the last Door2Door service cut was its supermarket run in March last year.
She said: "Door2Door provided a community transport service, including Dial-a-Bus to supermarkets and the city centre, group hire and the Ring and Ride to health and football service.
"To help people who used to use the Dial-a-Ride services, the council has worked with taxi operators who had shown a willingness to provide an alternative service.
"Although some operators subsequently found that the service could not be made commercially viable using their resources, the remaining operator is providing shared low-cost services to the city centre, using vehicles capable of taking most of the larger types of motorised wheelchairs."
She said the operator in question was not 75 Taxis.