The taxi driver school in Perth and Kinross has no grading system based on tests and stressful exams. Instead, it aims to develop competence and good practise in new drivers of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles.
Sometimes, cab companies give misleading information when they claim to take all types of wheelchairs. In reality, they turn out to accommodate only for certain types, excluding newer and bigger models.
Nettie Sutherland went through the unpleasant experience of riding in a poorly adapted cab herself. She believes that good communication between the drivers and their passengers is key to improving the service.
Please tell us a little bit about the background of this training. What made you realise that it’s necessary?
Different types of companies in Perth and Glasgow assured me that all black cabs can take a powered wheelchair. That proved to be otherwise when I went on my trip.
The driver said it was going to be a “bit of a tight fit”, then asked to remove my headrest. I had to bend all the way forward because the ceiling was too low. It’s uncomfortable and unsafe as there is no way of strapping my wheelchair to keep it in place during the ride.
Finally, the driver didn’t realise he was supposed to assist me from behind when I was getting out of the cab.
How would you explain the importance of adapting cabs for bigger wheelchairs to the taxi companies?
Safety concerns. Nobody should have to go through being smuggled into the taxi. It can be very frightening very upsetting. There’s also a risk of injury when your neck is bent forward and pressed against the ceiling.
How is this training being carried out?
Perth has about five cab companies and they all have Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles as a part of their fleet. When they are assigned to new drivers, the company gives us a call to arrange the training.
What is included in the study program?
We teach loading and unloading as well as securing the wheelchair. Moreover, we make sure to stress the importance of good communication between the driver and the passenger. Some disabled people, for instance, use speech boards, or have poor coordination. The driver should be patient, give them time to communicate, and inform them about any route changes.
How many drivers can attend a course?
Usually, we teach three to five people. We need to give everybody a shot of practising enough, so we restrict the numbers for that reason.
How do you assess studied material? Is there an exam?
We don’t have exams in traditional sense like in schools and universities. Instead, we focus on assessing how much of the studied material was retained by drivers to be put in practice.
Can you provide an example of this assessment?
After learning theory, they have to go out and demonstrate how they’re going to use it at work. They’re practising it on a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle which is exactly the same as the one they’re driving.
What role does the city council play in this training?
Once we know how many drivers need the training, we send an invoice to the council. They support us with fees for the delivery of the course. Also, the council will contact anybody who starts a private hire with Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles in their fleet. They redirect private drivers to the Centre for Inclusive Living for training.
Currently, the taxi driver school is operating in Perth only. However, Nettie and her colleagues are happy to train people in other parts of Scotland, too.
If your council speaks to the Perth and Kinross council, they will see about getting this course across to your city. All Nettie will ask for once she’s there is “a nice cup of coffee and maybe a sandwich.”