THERE are more wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles available in Halton than before the pandemic, new figures show.

This is against a national backdrop where there has been a decrease in the number of licensed vehicles accessible for those with mobility difficulties across England and Wales.

Experts suggest this is due to a lack of training and certification for the safe handling and transport of wheelchairs.

Department for Transport figures show Halton had 447 licensed vehicles as of April, but only 69 could be used by people with mobility difficulties.

That is an increase on March 2020, when there were 53.

Traditional taxis can be hailed from the street and do not need to be pre-booked like private hire vehicles, such as those used by companies like Uber.

There were 267 taxis in Halton, 43 of which were wheelchair accessible.

Most local authorities require all or part of their taxi fleet to be wheelchair-accessible, but only five per cent of them have made it compulsory for private hire vehicles. Halton does not have the policy in place for either yet.

There are 180 minicabs in Halton, 26 (14 per cent) of which can offer a ride to a wheelchair user.

James Farrar, general secretary of the App Drivers and Couriers Union said: “Big operator firms such as Uber and Addison Lee have not set minimum availability requirements for their fleets, have not committed to minimum service standards and have not provided adequate pay or financial support for drivers to afford the premium cost of these vehicles.

“Likewise, licensing authorities have generally not insisted on such standards as a condition of operator licensing.”

David Lawrie, director of the National Private Hire and Taxi Association said wheelchair-accessible vehicles are often too expensive for drivers to buy, with accessible electric vehicles costing around £70,000.

Across England and Wales, 237,622 (79 per cent) of the total 299,146 licensed vehicles are private hire, with just one in eight of them being wheelchair accessible.

There are also over 11,000 fewer taxis on the streets of the two countries this year than in March 2020.

Mr Lawrie added: “There is a massive drop in drivers. And the reason for that is because of lack of government support through Covid.

“Many drivers have gone into the courier business of food deliveries… And they are not going to come back because of the pressure and the regulations on the industry.”

More local authorities started requiring disability awareness training for taxi and private hire vehicles drivers in 2023.

However, Halton does not require any drivers to have it.

A DfT spokesperson said: “While it's down to local authorities to manage wheelchair accessible vehicles in their fleet, the Government is backing passengers with disability awareness training for drivers and bolstered laws, including fines, for those who fail to provide reasonable assistance.”

The DfT figures show there were five taxis and private hire vehicles for every 1,000 people in England and Wales at the beginning of April.

Halton has a lower rate with 3.5 per 1,000 people.