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27% of wheelchair users turned away by specially designed taxis in Japan: survey

A driver transfers wheelchair user Minekazu Tsuchiya into a universal design taxi in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward on Oct. 30, 2019. (Mainichi/Buntaro Saito)

TOKYO -- Universal design taxis that are capable of transporting wheelchairs turned away 27% of such users, according to the results of a survey by the Japan National Assembly of Disabled Peoples' International (DPI-Japan) released on Nov. 12.

According to the Oct. 30 study carried out by the Tokyo-based nongovernmental organization, 32 of 120 wheelchair users were rejected or for some other reason could not board wheelchair accessible taxis. DPI-Japan will urge the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism to improve the situation.

In at least one case, a taxi driver did not know how to attach a ramp to the back door of the car to help wheelchair users get onboard. Drivers are responsible for setting up ramps, securing wheelchairs in the vehicle and providing other assistance.

As the number of passengers using wheelchairs is expected to increase during the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, more of such taxis are being introduced.

The survey was conducted in 21 prefectures across Japan exactly 300 days before the Paralympic Games to examine whether universal design taxis will accommodate wheelchair users, how much time it takes for them to enter the car and other facts surrounding the special vehicles.

"The driver said they didn't have a ramp," explained one wheelchair user who was refused entry to a taxi. Another rejected individual said the driver "clearly looked away and ignored me."

While 21% of wheelchair users in Tokyo were turned away, 29% of such individuals outside the capital were rejected, possibly highlighting regional differences. It took an average 11 minutes and two seconds for a wheelchair user to be transferred into the car.

Minekazu Tsuchiya, a 51-year-old resident of Tokyo's Edogawa Ward who uses a motorized wheelchair, rode three taxis as part of the survey. Although each taxi driver had been training beforehand to transfer wheelchairs into the vehicle, a driver in his 50s said, "It takes time (for wheelchairs to board) so please don't use taxis when it's raining."

In a separate survey conducted between June and September 2018, 11 of 44 wheelchair users, or 25%, were turned away, and the situation surrounding universal design taxis showed no improvement.

According to the Japan Federation of Hire-Taxi Associations, the number of universal design taxis stood at 11,872 as of late March 2019, which is 7,100 more than the number in the corresponding period of last year.

Tsuchiya commented, "I urge that taxi companies continue to provide practical training."

(Japanese original by Buntaro Saito, City News Department)

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