Taxi hire ‘mystery shopper’ scheme is extended
A ‘mystery shopper’ exercise to check the performance of taxis drivers in a city when required to assist people with disabilities has proved a success and is to be extended.
The scheme consisted of a series of journeys made in both Hackney carriages and private hire vehicles by wheelchair users, people with mobility difficulties and blind or partially-sighted passengers with guide dogs in Wolverhampton.
Those taking part were also asked to complete a questionnaire relating to issues of safety, accessibility, the driver’s attitude, comparison to other transport facilities and anything they thought was particularly good or bad.
The council’s commercial regulation manager, Chris Howell, told members of the city’s non-statutory licensing committee that as a result of the feedback obtained, he felt the scheme could be continued and extended.
“We engaged with a number of volunteers from local disability groups, council employees and a member of West Midlands Police to carry out the mystery shopper scheme,” he said.
“A total of 19 journeys were undertaken in December last year and in February by volunteers using both Hackney carriages and private hire vehicles.
“These were people who were either wheelchair users, had difficulties with mobility due to hip replacements and osteoarthritis, or were blind or partially-sighted and accompanied by a guide dog.”
A report to the committee revealed that 13 journeys were undertaken in private hire vehicles and six in Hackney carriages.
Two journeys were taken by a volunteer in a wheelchair. Seven journeys were taken by a volunteer that was blind or partially sighted and accompanied by a guide dog. Two journeys were taken by volunteers who were blind/partially-sighted and also had difficulties with their mobility.
“During two of the journeys undertaken in Hackney carriages by wheelchair volunteers, the drivers failed to secure the wheelchair users correctly,” said Mr Howell.
“As a result both drivers attended a review hearing and a wheelchair training and assessment course. I’d like to propose that we continue the exercise and extend the remit.”
Each mystery shopper was required to hire a taxi from a rank in the city centre to a particular destination and then book a private hire for a return journey.
If physically possible, the mystery shopper was asked to travel alone. All visits and questionnaires were conducted anonymously to ensure accurate and efficient results could then be collated.
Licensing compliance officers observed the start of the hiring from a concealed location so that they could take down the vehicle registration number and the Hackney carriage or private hire licence number.
Every customer was accompanied beforehand and met afterwards to ensure their physical wellbeing and safety in locations they were not familiar with or areas that could be potentially busy.
Council staff involved were fully informed of the individuals’ physical disability and how to further assist them in making their journey more comfortable.
Overall the feedback showed that the duties contained within the Equality Act 2010 in relation to drivers was very positive, with the level of compliance being 100 per cent in six of the seven duties.
Figures showed that 87.5 per cent of the mystery shoppers rated the assistance provided by drivers as good to excellent with 12.5 per cent rating it as average.
Positive comments made in the questionnaire included “driver offered to push me” and “driver offered to stow my bag with wheelchair”, while on the negative side one customer said “driver didn’t fold up offside bench seat making it difficult to turn to face rear”.
Other figures showed 90 per cent rated the driver’s helpfulness as good to excellent; 88 per cent rated the driver’s efforts to make the vehicle accessible as good to excellent; and 84.5 per cent rated the facilities available during the journey as good to excellent.
Overall 71 per cent rated the service provided by the operator as good to excellent, although one customer stated “didn’t know where Molineux Stadium or Wulfruna Street was, couldn’t offer an estimated time of arrival, difficult to understand”.
Facilities were rated good to excellent by 79.5 per cent; the necessary steps taken by the driver by 80 per cent and the fleet’s accessibility compared to other forms of public transport by 79 per cent.
Committee members voted unanimously in favour of extending the mystery shopper exercise in the future.