Drivers and people with disabilities will get their say on plans to make all new applicants for taxi and private hire licences provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles before a final decision is made.

Rules on wheelchair-accessible vehicles were relaxed in East Renfrewshire during the Covid pandemic, leading to a “significant drop-off” in numbers — with just four reportedly on the roads now.

Disability groups have suggested the current policy should be scrapped, but the industry has voiced concerns over the financial impact on drivers, who will need to buy more expensive vehicles.

East Renfrewshire Council carried out a consultation between December and May and has proposed all new applicants provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles, but there is no fee for these initial applications.

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However, it will allow stakeholders who wish to address the licensing committee to attend a meeting in June to share their views. An 18-month trial period is likely for any changes.

A council official said: “I am conscious in light of the responses we received, there are a number of points of view on this particular issue. 

“I’m also conscious that the committee has not heard directly from the individuals concerned, both on the disability side of the equation and on the trade side of the equation.”

Previously all applications for new taxi and private hire car licences required vehicles to be wheelchair accessible. This was relaxed in April 2021 due to the impact of the pandemic on the taxi trade.

At that time, there were 40 wheelchair-accessible vehicles in East Renfrewshire, but that has “dropped dramatically both as a result of lapsed licences and drivers replacing wheelchair-accessible vehicles” with other vehicles when they renewed their licence.

There are now “only four such vehicles” licensed, out of 429 licensed taxis and private hire cars in the area.

Council officials reported disability rights groups highlighted struggles to “organise wheelchair-accessible vehicles for scheduled trips, particularly those coinciding with school run times”.

They added users had been “deterred from making bookings due to historic difficulties in obtaining appropriate transportation” and that some drivers were “reluctant to undertake short journeys due to the disproportionate time required to assist the customer in entering and exiting the vehicle”.

Trade representatives reported the price of “new vehicles of this type was in the region of £70,000” and stated they did not believe local demand for such vehicles to be high.

They also believe the proposals could deter applications and lead to “shrinking the taxi/private hire fleet to a size which did not provide a reasonable service to all East Renfrewshire users”.

A wheelchair-accessible vehicle would be described as a “vehicle, whether a taxi or private hire vehicle, which is of a size capable of accommodating a wheelchair user (in their wheelchair) and at least one other passenger, provides a safe means of both entry and egress from the vehicle and has an appropriate means of securing the wheelchair whilst in transit”.