These regulations will progressively come into effect from March 2003 as taxi drivers' licenses come up for renewal or new applications are made.
'The Executive is committed to improving access to public transport system in Scotland in the widest sense, to ensure that everyone in our communities can enjoy the same opportunities to travel.
'It is essential that people with disabilities have the same confidence as other people when it comes to hiring a taxi - confidence that the taxi they are hiring will accept them and their dog at no extra charge.
'These measures will, over the coming months, place a duty on all licensed taxi drivers, unless they are exempt on medical grounds, to carry guide, hearing and other assistance dogs accompanying disabled people at no extra charge. It is another step along the road of improving the rights of those with assistance dogs.
'Any driver who fails to comply with this new requirement will be committing a criminal offence and if convicted could be fined up to£1,000. Local authorities could also decide to suspend individual licences.'
The Taxi Drivers' Licences (Carrying of Guide Dogs and Hearing Dogs) (Scotland) Regulations 2002 will make it mandatory for licensed taxi drivers to carry guide, hearing and other assistance dogs accompanying disabled people, and to do so without charge. The Regulations also contain provisions relating to the exemption of drivers from such requirements on medical grounds.
The regulations came into effect for those seeking exemption on 2 December 2002 and licensing authorities will be required to attach the prescribed conditions on all taxi drivers' licenses issued on or after 3 March 2003, unless an exemption has been granted.
The enabling powers only allow the Regulations to apply to taxi drivers and consequently they do not apply to the drivers of private hire cars. However, the Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs Etc) Act 2002, has recently received Royal Assent at Westminster and will allow similar regulations to be introduced for such drivers. It is anticipated that consultation on these will take place next year. In the meantime, it is for local authorities to use their discretionary power, to attach equivalent conditions to private hire drivers if they consider it appropriate to do so.