Norwich taxi firm calls for support after closing exclusive wheelchair service after 18 years

A disabled child in a wheelchair being helped onto an accessible mini bus. Picture: Getty Images/iSt

A disabled child in a wheelchair being helped onto an accessible mini bus. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The owner of a Norfolk taxi firm has called on the government for support having been forced to close their exclusive service for wheelchair users, which had served the community for 18 years.

Enterprise Taxis, based in Drayton, had previously been one of the only providers of wheelchair adapted minibuses in Norfolk, but have had to finish the amenity due to crippling financial pressures.

Owner of Enterprise Taxis John Walker said: 'It genuinely angers and upsets me that we've had to end this service. I was in a wheelchair myself for four years after a nasty accident, so I entirely understand the frustrations around being a wheelchair user.'

The specially adapted minibuses cost £40,000 to buy, and £700 a month to run.

Mr Walker, 45, said: 'If the government subsidised the minibuses I would buy as many as I could afford. But their monthly running cost is so high and I can't charge my drivers anywhere near that to rent them.

'I've written to Chris Grayling many times in the last few years about the issue, but he only responds directly to his constituents. It just makes you feel like the transport department doesn't care about the wheelchair community. I e-mailed him this week and just said: 'You've done it, you've finished it.''

The firm will still be offering a full service to wheelchair users, but will no longer have vehicles which can load passengers still in their chairs into the vehicle via a ramp.

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Mr Walker, said: 'On the one hand I want to continue serving this community but on the other I have a reputation to uphold. I'd feel even worse if we had passengers stuck in vehicles because they're old and have broken down.

'These vehicles look the same on the outside year on year, but have had four engines replaced and gone through three gearboxes.'

He continued: 'We used to have 11 specific wheelchair minibuses but now we only have three. One of them broke down on the way back from taking a lady to Sheffield, and my driver was stuck on the M62 for 24 hours.'

Mr Walker continued: 'They also have to have two checks on their ramps every year, they are less fuel efficient because of the weight. I just can't afford to keep them.'

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: DfT spokesperson said: 'Disabled passengers must have the same opportunities to travel as everyone else, and it is essential that the services they rely on are accessible and work for them. We recognise the important role played by taxis and private hire vehicles in helping disabled people to remain independent.

'Councils are ultimately responsible for the service in their area and they should ensure that sufficient wheelchair accessible vehicles are available to meet the demand from passengers.

'As part of our Inclusive Transport Strategy, we will be consulting on updating the best practice guidance for licensing authorities, including on how to support an inclusive and accessible taxi service.'