BIG ISSUE: Blind Chorley man campaigns against refusal of guide dogs in taxis
Guide dog owner Alan Hughes has relied on public transport since he lost his vision 15 years ago.
So it’s no surprise that the 64-year-old is left feeling “frustrated” and “worthless” when he is illegally refused access to some taxis because of his assistance dog, Kim.
He has now decided to join the campaign alongside hundreds of other guide dog owners across the country, who are trying to put a stop to taxi and minicab drivers saying no to their dogs.
Alan, who lives in Chorley, said when he is refused access to somewhere in public in front of his family, he feels “horrible”.
He said: “It makes me feel like I am not worthy of anything.
“When people lose their sight, their confidence takes a knock.
“And just when people build it back up, things like this knock it back down again.
“Access is really important to me because I want to go anywhere that my family would be able to go.
“And the problem with guide dogs being denied access is becoming more prevalent.
“A lot of it is fear. There are a lot of people that are scared of dogs, I accept that but it is how it is done.
“But assistance dogs will always be on a lead - and they are not vicious.
“I get a bit upset sometimes, when a taxi driver or shop owner says no.
“I have even been threatened with the police before.
“People need to remember it is against the law to discriminate against guide dog owners.”
Alan joined more than a hundred guide dog owners from across the UK in a visit to Westminster last week, to call for tougher sentences for taxi and minicab drivers who turn away assistance dog owners.
Taxi and minicab drivers who refuse to take a guide dog can have their licence removed or be fined up to £1,000, plus costs, in court.
However, charity Guide Dogs believes penalties are not being used effectively enough to act as a deterrent.
Research by the national charity showed that prosecutions are rare and fines are low, with some local authorities reporting fines as low as £50 to £100.
“It makes me feel very frustrated,” Alan said. “There are many taxi drivers who will willingly take guide dogs, but a lot still refuse.
“I felt humiliated after being refused access to a taxi because of my guide dog Kim.
“Many guide dog owners are very timid because they have lost their sight and are too nervous to complain.
“But if taxi drivers don’t want a guide dog to travel in their cab then they shouldn’t become a taxi driver.
“We are hoping the government will take the responsibility for this away from local authorities and make it a known issue that is dealt with in the court system.
“It needs to be recognised as a serious offence.”
The lobby at Westminster, on Wednesday, May 25, was supported by staff and volunteers from Guide Dogs.
James White, senior campaigns manager at the charity, said people with sight loss were being turned away with “shocking regularity”, after their research was carried out.
He said: “It’s not only illegal, it knocks people’s confidence and stops them doing the everyday things that most people take for granted.
Freedom of Information requests showed that out of 344 authorities across the country, 291 incidents reported by 119 authorities.
But only 53 prosecutions took place.
James added: “Licencing authorities and magistrates aren’t effectively using the powers they have to prosecute taxi and minicab drivers who flout the law.
“In most cases drivers are simply given a warning and, on the rare occasions the cases go to court, fines are woefully inadequate.
“We want tougher sentences for drivers who turn away assistance dog owners.”
Philip Cooper, the owner of the Chorley-based taxi company, Coopers Taxis, said there is a company policy on guide dogs.
He said: “Anybody with an assistance dog must be taken - we always accept them.
“We know we can’t refuse them by law.
“If you or I were blind, we would expect to have access to transport.”
Philip added that although all assistance dogs are accepted, any non-assistance dogs can be accepted on the drivers discretion.
Saadat Ullah, the owner of Chorley Taxis, said his company also always accepts guide dogs.
He said: “We have never had any issues with this.
“We never refuse them - if everybody refused them then how are they going to get around?
“If anybody calls us with a guide dog we are more than happy to help them.”
Chorley Council revealed on their Freedom of Information request to Guide Dogs that there had been no complaints against private hire drivers for refusing to carry a guide or assistance dogs in the area.
Councillor Paul Walmsley, who oversees taxis for the council, said: “There is no doubt that this is an issue in some places because the Guide Dogs association is taking this action, however Chorley Council hasn’t received any complaints from anyone whose guide or assistance dog has been refused access, and I would like to think this reflects well on the taxi trade in Chorley. If however, people do have a different experience, I would ask them to let us know so we can address any issues.”
Following the lobby at Westminster, Transport Minister Andrew Jones released a comment.
He said: “Refusing to carry an assistance dog in a taxi or private hire vehicle is a criminal offence, and it is absolutely unacceptable that some drivers continue to break the law.
“We expect licensing authorities to help drivers understand their legal obligations, and to take tough action against drivers who do not comply.”
For more information about the campaign, visit www.guidedogs.org.uk.