DISABLED drivers have slammed the launch of a new free taxi service into the city centre, following new restrictions on Blue Badge access to the centre.

The new York Disability Rights Forum claims that a lack of information provided to motorists - and the delay with which it was communicated - shows a ‘profound lack of insight into the needs of Blue Badge holders.’

It said concerns raised by local disabled people included the cleaning and sanitising of taxis in between journeys, the capacity of the vehicle if transporting more than one wheelchair user, accompanying friends, family or carers, the regularity and availability of the service and the availability of accessible toilets at the pick-up and drop-off points.

City of York Council recently decided to extend the city centre pedestrianised zone and close it to vehicles until 8pm in a bid to give people room for social distancing and provide space for cafes and restaurants to put out tables and chairs.

It said free Blue Badge parking had been provided in Monk Bar car park, from where a free taxi shuttle service had been provided to take people into the city centre.

But the forum said a leaflet, sent to all Blue Badge holders living in York, did not indicate how long the new measures would be in place or when it was expected they would be reviewed.

It said:“The publication states, in bold, “We especially need to help you, our Blue Badge Holders, feel safe and confident about coming into the city.” We believe that the council is currently failing in its aim to do this,” it said.

“The publication focuses on wheelchair users where it is referring to Blue Badge holders. The publication does not account for Blue Badge holders who may not be wheelchair users, for example those who have visual impairment, people with cognitive impairment, people with extreme anxiety.

“The council have failed to recognise the level of planning required for many disabled people to plan a journey into and around the city centre.

“There are no details given to describe the ways in which the ‘taxi shuttle’ that runs from Monk Bar car park has been adapted for use by people with disabilities.

“This is imperative to be able to make an informed decision about its use. As an example, a vehicle that has been adapted to accommodate an electric wheelchair requires a ramp or passenger lift and a means of securing the wheelchair and the wheelchair user."

“The publication states that the council “hope the additional measures we are putting in place will go some way to continue to allow you to access the facilities that are re-opening in the city centre”. These measures are outlined in the publication as an additional 40 disabled parking bays allocated for Blue Badge holders in Monk Bar car park; and a free taxi service.

“ The information required for an individual to make a choice about whether they’re able to access and safely use the taxi service is not given.”

A council spokesperson said:“These are unprecedented times and we are not able to undertake the level of engagement with residents and groups as we would like. 

"This has been the case with many of the transport measures that have been introduced.  Our priority has been protecting lives and protecting jobs. 

"We welcome the recognition that this group has made of the efforts we have undertaken to mitigate some of the negative aspects of these measures. 

"We would also encourage the group to share their feedback with us in future so we can work together to ensure everyone’s needs are met where possible.

"We have specifically invested over £19,000 in helping to ensure disabled residents are still able to access the city centre. 

"We appreciate given the need for timely interventionL we have not been able to address these completely and we committed at the time of implementation to continue to work with representatives from all those with access requirements as the crisis continues. 

"We have been acutely aware of the needs of those with non-physical mobility needs and despite this being a significant challenge its one we are determined to rise to.”

Meanwhile, the council also confirmed that it is creating several temporary disabled parking bays closer to the city centre.

The bays will be created on Duncombe Place outside Dean’s Court Hotel, St Saviourgate, Dundas Street and Carmelite Street.

A spokesperson said further blue badge parking could be created on other roads around the pedestrian zone.

The council’s monitoring officer says in a report: “The continuation of these temporary arrangements are necessary to ensure blue badge holders are not placed at detriment whilst the social distancing requirements across the city continue to be in place."