TAXI drivers who refuse to carry blind people with guide dogs face fines of up to $1100, the NSW Government warned today amid outrage at the biased practice.
Transport Minister John Watkins today warned of a crackdown on selective cabbies after he Daily Telegraph revealed some drivers were refusing to pick up guide dogs for "religious" reasons or because of allergies.
He said the government was committed to ensuring that all taxi drivers were aware of and complied with the law - and would consider changing the training program.
"I need to make the point very clear to the taxi industry and to taxi drivers. This is illegal, with a fine of up to $1,100," Mr Watkins told reporters in Newcastle.
"I've made sure the Ministry of Transport contacts the Taxi Council to remind their drivers of their responsibility.
"We'll also look at the education – all taxi drivers receive a session with a disability service advocate as part of their training.
"I also urge any patron that finds or comes across a refusal to travel, to report them."
A spokeswoman for Deputy Premier John Watkins said he would look into implementing better training programs in cooperation with the NSW Taxi Council.
A Guide Dogs NSW spokeswoman said the organisation had been providing information sessions for new taxi drivers for the past two years.
She said taxi drivers were often surprised to learn that carrying guide dogs in their vehicles was compulsory, and added there should be further measures to teach drivers already in the industry.
The treatment of the blind by some Sydney taxi drivers has been exposed by Human Rights and Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, who is himself blind and reliant on his guide dog Jordie.
Mr Innes, whose high-powered role makes him a regular cab user, said he was refused service on average once a month, including twice in two days recently.
He has been told on a number of occasions that it would be against a driver's religion to allow a dog in the cab.
He has also been refused by drivers claiming to be allergic to dogs and even scared of dogs.
He has also been left clutching at air on busy Market St by one belligerent driver who told him he had to take the non-existent cab in front.
Mr Innes yesterday received the backing of Vision Australia (VA), which said taxi drivers refusing to carry blind passengers with guide dogs happened with "too much regularity".
VA's head of policy and advocacy Michael Simpson said the problem was worse in the Sydney metropolitan area where there were more drivers unwilling to carry dogs based on Muslim objections.
"It is fair to say that the (Islamic) religion has made the problem worse in the metropolitan areas than regional areas, where I've found taxi drivers are generally excellent," he said.
Mr Simpson, who has been blind for 30 years but uses a cane instead of a guide dog, said he was refused service at the airport because his two companions had dogs.
"We asked the driver for his accreditation number and he gave us the wrong one," he said.
"It was only because an airline staff member had accompanied us that we got the right number and could properly complain about being refused."
Mr Innes was compelled to speak out after The Daily Telegraph last week revealed how an intellectually impaired man had been slapped with $1000 in train fare evasion fines even though he cannot understand what the offence is.
He called for better training for all front-line public transport staff in NSW in dealing with disabled passengers.
"I'm a lawyer and I know exactly what my rights are so I force the issue but my concern is for those for whom a refusal can be a damaging experience and discouraging to their independence," Mr Innes.
NSW Taxi Council spokeswoman Tracey Caine said complaints about refusing guide dogs was rare.
"The problem has been much worse in Melbourne," she said.
Ms Caine said all NSW drivers were spoken to by disability advocates as part of their training and there had been a number of awareness campaigns in the industry publication, Meter Magazine: "It is illegal to refuse to take a guide dog and all drivers know it."
Vest say's there being two sides to the story it is also important to hear from cab drivers and actually listen to their argument too, there has to be a reason why some cab drivers refuse fares, let us hear what they have to say.
Friday, 25 May 2007
To advise that Vest (Les Bowyer) passed away this morning. Regards, Chris (Son).
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