12 December 2014
First Bus Wins Wheelchair Court Judgment
Bus companies will not be legally obliged to force passengers with pushchairs, who choose to occupy designated disabled bays, to make way for wheelchair users.
The Court of Appeal overturned a Leeds County Court judgment which ruled that First Bus’s wheelchair policy was discriminatory, after a 36 year-old disabled man was denied access to one of their buses in February 2012.
Doug Paulley of West Yorkshire, was unable to board the bus in Leeds when a woman with a pushchair who was occupying the disabled bay, refused to move because her baby was asleep.
At the time of the incident, the bus company’s ‘first come, first served’ policy was one of ‘requesting but not requiring’ non-disabled passengers to vacate disabled bays if the space was needed by a wheelchair user.
In 2013, a judge at Leeds County Court ruled that this policy was in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
Associate Solicitor who sustained a spinal cord injury as a teenager, said the ruling was bitterly disappointing.
What this basically means is that if somebody refuses to move from a designated wheelchair space on a bus or train then that is essentially that. I along with every other wheelchair user in the UK will simply have to wait for the next train or bus. How can that possibly be right?
This issue is of huge importance to the thousands of disabled people across the UK who use public transport. We’re not asking for very much. We are simply asking for access to public transport in the same way everyone else takes for granted.
Mr Paulley has said that the ‘battle isn’t over yet’ and he will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
In the appeal court, Lord Justice Underhill said, “It has to be accepted that our conclusion and reasoning in this case means that wheelchair users will occasionally be prevented by other passengers from using the wheelchair space on the bus.
“I do not, however, believe that the fact that some passengers will – albeit rarely – act selfishly and irresponsibly is a sufficient reason for imposing on bus companies a legal responsibility for a situation which is not of their making and which they are not in a position to prevent.”
We just need clarity on this issue. We need absolute certainty that when a bus or train comes along we can be assured that the space designated as ours will be made available. If this case goes to the Supreme Court, I and many thousands of others, sincerely hope that any future judgement will provide that certainty.
Along with better awareness about the needs for disabled travellers, one positive we can take from this judgement is that transport companies will now have to provide better training to their drivers and equip them with strategies they can use to persuade passengers to vacate wheelchair bays in the event of similar incidents.
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