Taxi driver Alan Hales from Currock, Carlisle putting wheelchair ramps on his taxi to take Howard Bambrough from Sycamore House, Carlisle in

Taxi drivers have been warned they could be punished unless they learn how to look after disabled passengers.

Hundreds of cabbies in Carlisle have been sent letters telling them they must take part in a disability awareness session.

Licensing chiefs are insisting they attend a course – after which they will sit a test – within the next 10 months so all are aware of their responsibilities.

The move is in response to the introduction of the Disability and Equality Act – which gives disabled people enhanced protection from discrimination – and following complaints to Carlisle City Council.

Licensing officer Sue Stashkiw

Letters about the new requirement have been sent to all 252 hackney drivers and 77 private hire drivers in the Carlisle district.

Sessions to be run by the council will set out what support should be offered to disabled passengers, how support can be provided to visually impaired or blind passengers, as well as those who may be hard of hearing, autistic, use a wheelchair or have learning difficulties.

The decision to run them was agreed by the council’s regulatory panel in August.

Nationally, there have been a number of high-profile cases in recent years where passengers have been injured because they have not been carried properly in taxis.

There are health and safety rules which must be followed to ensure people in wheelchairs are properly secured in taxis, and for getting them in and out safely.

Councillor John Bell, chairman of the regulatory panel that oversees the work of taxi drivers in Carlisle, said: “We appreciate that many drivers carry disabled passengers on a regular basis and are familiar with the correct procedures.

“It is our duty, however, to ensure all drivers are fully aware of their responsibilities and their rights when carrying disabled passengers. It is also important that this awareness training is consistent across the board.

“It is recognised that many drivers have done training in their own time and achieved qualifications in passenger transport. However, it is felt that the sessions would act as a refresher and during open discussion newer drivers would benefit from their experience and knowledge.”

Awareness sessions, which will be free and last for two hours, will be held at Carlisle’s Civic Centre.

Veteran cabbie Alan Hales, who has been driving taxis for 20 years, regularly carries wheelchair passengers and supports the awareness training.

He said: “There are drivers who sit on the rank and do not often have disabled passengers. They might not realise all the rules and regulations.

“There are many who will not know how to fasten wheelchairs in properly.”

Failure to complete a training session could result in drivers being referred to the regulatory panel, which has the power to take sanctions against them.

New drivers must now complete the training before their licence is granted.

By Chris Story, courtesy of In-Cumbria