A disabled man has won a Supreme Court case after a dispute with a woman with a buggy over wheelchair space on a bus.
Wheelchair user Doug Paulley of West Yorkshire brought his case after he was refused entry to a FirstGroup bus in 2012, when a mother with a pushchair refused to move.
He attempted to board a bus operated by FirstGroup which had a sign saying: “Please give up this space if needed for a wheelchair user.”
A woman with a sleeping baby in a pushchair refused to move out of the designated area when asked by the bus driver. She said the buggy would not fold. A situation that has occurred on many occasions for wheelchair users.
He had argued FirstGroup’s “requesting, not requiring” policy was discriminatory.
The court said the company should consider further steps to persuade non-wheelchair users to move, without making it a legal duty to move them.
The judgement fell short of making it a legal requirement for bus companies to compel non-wheelchair passengers to move from the space.
However disability charity Scope said the ruling was “an important milestone”.
Reacting to the judgement, Mr Paulley told the BBC: “Who would have thought that five years on I would still being discussing the day I had that problem going across to see my parents for lunch?”
The ruling makes it clear that bus companies must do more than simply request they move from the wheelchair place.
Where a driver concludes a refusal to move is unreasonable, he or she should consider some further steps to pressurise the non-wheelchair user to vacate the space.
These might include rephrasing the request as a requirement, or even a refusal to drive on for several minutes “with a view to pressurising or shaming the recalcitrant non-wheelchair user to move”.
This places a lot of responsibility on the driver.
There are also major implications for all service providers with wheelchair spaces or facilities.
Companies will have to make sure their policies go far enough to avoid substantial disadvantage to wheelchair users, and that staff are properly trained to enforce them.
Mr Paulley won an initial case against FirstGroup in 2013, after he argued its policy of “requesting, not requiring” able-bodied passengers to move was unlawful disability discrimination.
However, FirstGroup successfully appealed in the Court of Appeal in 2014, after which Mr Paulley brought his case to the Supreme Court.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission described the latest decision in the case as “a victory for disabled people’s rights”.
Speaking on BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire Programme, wheelchair users reacted to the judgement.
Will Pike told the programme: “We were seeking some sort of clarity.”
“Doug has done an incredible job of bringing this issue to light and to the mainstream media’s attention, and at the end of it there’s no news.”
Penny Mordaunt, the Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health, said she would be talking to the Department for Transport about “clarity, good practice and the powers of transport providers to ensure this ruling becomes a reality”.
Mr Paulley added “this is hopefully going to make a major difference to disabled people’s travel.”
Credit: The BBC