DISABLED residents in Barrhead will finally gain full access to East Renfrewshire’s taxi services after council chiefs reached a breakthrough agreement with campaigners.

East Renfrewshire Council (ERC) announced it will increase the number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs) in the region following years of negotiations – sparking celebrations amongst campaigners.

Barrhead man Michael McEwan, chairman of the East Renfrewshire Disability Action (ERDA) who has fought for the cause since 2012, said: “I’m over the moon and happy for the ERDA members. It’s been a long time coming.

“When you get your way after so many years you wonder if it really happened.”

ERC faced mounting pressure after figures showed the region was among the lowest in the country for its ratio of WAVs.

New licences will now only be granted to taxi and private hire operators who provide WAVs.

The restriction will remain in place until a fifth of all cabs in the area can accommodate those with disabilities, at which point, licences will be opened up again to any type of authorised vehicle.

Councillors also agreed that all people carriers must be WAVs for a limited period of three years.

The council’s new guidelines were finalised at a meeting of its Licensing Committee last week.

ERC will draw on funds from its 2017/18 budget proposals to enforce the changes.

ERDA has pressed the local authority on the matter for more than five years and, although members believe the announcement is long overdue, Mr McEwan admitted there was a sense of relief among the group.

He told the News: “We’re quite happy to work with the taxi drivers now to promote their WAVs. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we can start to work with them.”

A number of taxi and private hire firms are fearful of increased costs surrounding WAVs, with many sceptical of the need.

However, ERC Licensing Committee chairman and Barrhead councillor Tommy Reilly believes those worries have now subsided to a manageable level.

The council also plans to provide an education programme to give taxi drivers a broader understanding of the needs of disabled people.

Cllr Reilly said: “We had a meeting in November and quite a lot of ideas from that meeting were brought to the table on Tuesday.

“It took a lot of time to come to a consensus. One of the most contentious parts is insisting on 100 per cent of taxi drivers conforming and having WAVs.

“That would look as a punishment to taxi drivers and that’s not the kind of business we’re in. We need to wait and see what kind of effect this has.”