A TAXI driver has been suspended after he refused to pick up a blind woman and her guide dog, saying he was allergic to pets.
Imran Hussain, who works for Accrington firm Max Cabs, was hauled before a judicial panel at the council after it was claimed he left Jenny Nedwell and her two-year-old Labrador, Riley, standing in the rain.
The 34-year-old, who got his badge in 2009, was suspended from working as a taxi driver for three weeks and could now face criminal prosecution.
Mr Hussain, of Blackburn Road, Accrington, said he refused to take Miss Nedwell because he is allergic to pets and would have been putting other road users at risk if his eyes had ‘puffed up’.
But he fell foul of the Equality Act, which states taxi drivers must pick up guide dogs or risk committing a criminal offence, unless they have a medical exemption certificate from the council.
Former Haslingden High pupil, Miss Nedwell, a wellbeing and work co-ordinator at Bootstrap Enterprises, Blackburn, said she ordered a taxi because of the rain and a meeting at work.
She said: “I told the operator that I had a guide dog. I stated it very clearly because I have had issues before.
“The taxi driver pulled up at the end of the driveway, opened the window, said he would not pick me up and that he would send somebody else.”
Miss Nedwell, who grew up in Helmshore and Rawtenstall, has reverse retinitis pigmentosa, a rare degenerative eye disease that has left her with blurred vision in her right eye, and only peripheral vision in her left.
The 30-year-old, who lives in Spring Meadows, Clayton-le-Moors, with her boyfriend and Hyndburn councillor Gareth Molineux, said she rang the taxi company, who apologised. Another driver picked her up, and drove her to Blackburn.
Miss Nedwell said: “This time, enough was enough. I was late for work and it was ridiculous.
“Riley is a black dog with a high-vis yellow and white harness on. It’s very obvious that he’s a working dog.
“It’s discrimination and that’s what got to me really. It’s not fair.”
Speaking after Monday’s hearing, Mr Hussain said he should have told the council about his medical condition.
He said he discovered his allergy when his eyes ‘puffed up’ after coming close to a pet, and that he had never been asked to pick up a dog in his taxi before this incident on October 17 last year.
He said: “I had to inform the council about my illness at the time and I didn’t. I’m glad I’m still working because what has happened is very harsh.
“I always pick my customers up, but in that situation I would have been putting her, other people, and myself at risk.
“The council are going to give me a (medical exemption) certificate.”
A spokesman for Max Cabs said: “Until the council issues him with a medical exemption certificate, he will be asked to pick up guide dogs.
“This has highlighted a shortfall in the council’s application process.
“We want the council to have a big tick box on the initial application form asking if drivers are allergic to dogs.
“We don’t have a single driver that has a certificate, so they will be expected to pick up guide dogs.”
Coun Molineux, who is also a councillor and a disabled champion at Lancashire County Council, is a member of Hyndburn Council’s judicial committee but did not sit on the committee for this case.
He said he was ‘angry and disappointed’ when he heard Mr Hussain had refused to pick up his partner.
He said: “It was not the first time we have had issues with taxis picking us up.
“On occasion, drivers have tried to charge more, and tried to charge separately for the dog, and on other occasions, they make you feel like they don’t want the dog there.
“For Jenny and me, it was not about punishment, it was about making drivers aware they have a legal obligation to carry guide dogs.
“In this case, the punishment was probably needed, but we are glad he has not lost his licence.
“Maybe drivers in the future will think twice about not taking a guide dog.”
Nearly 25 per cent of blind people have been refused access to transport, a survey by Guide Dogs for the Blind Association found. Two thirds of complaints were against taxi drivers, the survey said.
The charity said it was keen to work with taxi companies, and can give training on how to help blind and partially sighted people.
For more information, call 0845 372 7407, or visit www.guidedogs.org.uk/manchester
A spokeswoman for Hyndburn Council said “We cannot comment on individual cases. However, the council would not usually be the prosecuting authority and it would usually be up to the complainant to decide whether they wanted to refer the matter to the police.”