Bus drivers must do more to ensure wheelchair users have priority over prams and pushchairs, following a landmark court ruling.

Back in 2012, Doug Pulley, a wheelchair user from Yorkshire, began legal action against bus company FirstGroup. He could not board a bus because of a mother with a pushchair refusing to move from the disabled area. This was despite the driver asking her to move and a sign saying wheelchair users have priority over the space.

FirstGroup has a policy ‘to request, not require’ non-disabled passengers to vacate the space if needed by a wheelchair user. Mr Paulley claimed this policy breaches the Equality Act.

County Court and Court of Appeal

Leeds County Court first heard the case. The judged ruled that FirstGroup breached its duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. Furthermore, the bus company’s policy should have required the woman to move and enforced the wheelchair user’s right to priority. The court awarded Mr Paulley £5,500 in damages.

But the Court of Appeal overturned the judgment. It ruled that there must be a fair balance between the needs of wheelchair users and those of other vulnerable passengers. It also said that the policy could result in confrontations and cause delays.

Supreme Court ruling

Mr Paulley continued his case, reaching the UK’s highest court, the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court allowed Mr Paulley’s appeal because of the limitations of FirstGroup’s policy. It said to require a driver to only request a non-wheelchair user to move without taking any other steps was wrong.

The Supreme Court concluded that the bus driver should’ve done more and drivers must consider when it’s appropriate to pressurise reluctant passengers to move. It also said that drivers should consider refusing to continue the journey.

Significant victory

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, supporting Mr Paulley in his court cases, called the Supreme Court ruling a significant victory for disabled people’s rights.

Disability campaigners also welcomed the decision. They said the court recognises the duty of transport providers to ensure disabled passengers can travel. The ruling makes it clear that it shouldn’t be up to the disabled passenger to get a person to move, but the transport provider too.

Being able to get around is vital to living independently and this is a huge step in the right direction.

Looking ahead

This ruling is a significant legal precedent for giving wheelchair users priority on buses.

However, unions want more clarity on the ruling. The Unite union, representing UK bus drivers, agrees that the ruling is a positive step forward. But it says the vagueness of it and the responsibility on drivers to deal with disputes over wheelchair spaces could put them in a conflict situation.

Campaigners say that wheelchair users don’t want to be up against buggy and pram users. But unlike pushchairs, most wheelchairs cannot fold up.

Hopefully now other transport companies will look at this case and review their policies.

Wheelchair users can always travel comfortably when they hire a wheelchair accessible vehicle. They provide a safe way to travel, offering plenty of space. Call Gowrings Mobility on 0345 608 8020, 01635 588942 or get in touch online to find out about the vehicles available.

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