WHEELCHAIR users in the Capital are to be hit with a £20 charge for discounted taxi journeys – but the plans have been branded “discrimination”.
They would be charged a membership fee to join the scheme in a move aimed at covering administration costs and generating £180,000 a year for the city.
If approved, the levy would be part of a wider overhaul of taxi subsidies for residents whose mobility is severely impaired.
But angry campaigners said free access to the scheme was crucial and that new fees could force many into poverty and isolation. Bill Scott, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland, said: “We do believe that these sorts of changes are discriminatory because they have a disproportionate effect on disabled people.
“Disabled people are already facing huge cuts to their benefits. Their average income is already falling and if you’re levying charges on what’s left, it means they’re not able to be in the community or go shopping because they can’t afford it.”
Edinburgh’s taxi card service currently pays the first £3 of journeys for people who have difficulty transporting themselves across the city because of medical or mobility issues, up to a maximum of 104 trips per year.
As well as charging a £20 membership fee, the council wants to remove the cost of this subsidy by including the card in its general taxi contract so those using the scheme would get a discount directly from firms.
It is hoped the overhaul will generate a total saving of £800,000 as the city battles to plug a £67 million budget gap.
Campaigners said some of the changes “seemed to make sense” but warned against making vulnerable individuals bear “the cost of inclusion”.
Sebastian Fischer, of Voice of Carers Across Lothian (VOCAL), said: “Our priority should be to remove barriers and further integrate citizens with support needs and mobility problems and their carers. A contributory membership fee may be justifiable for users who make significantly more journeys and who do not depend on welfare benefits, but this would require a proper consultation process to allow all stakeholders to assess the impact.”
Florence Garabedian, chief executive of Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living, added: “Targeting cuts to the very services that support [disabled people] to live independently, and to remain members of their communities, would just lead to more exclusion and marginalisation, and increase the gap between those who have and who have not.”
Council bosses said they had consulted extensively with users ahead of a final budget decision next month.
A spokeswoman said: “We have already met with Taxi Card users and will continue to involve them in discussions on how the service can be improved should any changes be implemented.”