‘Bay of contention’ may finally be cleared up
A woman’s refusal to move a pushchair with a sleeping baby from a bay on a bus used by wheelchair passengers – causing a disabled man to have to leave the vehicle – is at the centre of a test-case legal battle in the court of appeal.
Three appeal judges are being asked by FirstGroup to decide whether wheelchair passengers should have priority over all other passengers to use the space as a matter of law.
The judges heard that the company had a policy of “requesting but not requiring” non-disabled travellers, including those with babies and pushchairs, to vacate the space if it was needed by a wheelchair user.
However, as featured in CBW at the time, a judge at Leeds county court ruled that the policy was discriminatory and in breach of a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.
The ruling was made in the case of Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user from Wetherby, West Yorkshire, who was denied access to the bus after the woman with the sleeping baby refused to move.
Doug won £5,500 in damages against FirstGroup, after the judge, Recorder Paul Isaacs, declared that the company should have taken measures to ensure he was not at a disadvantage when he tried to get on the bus.
The judge said it had been parliament’s decision to “give protection to disabled wheelchair users and not to non-disabled mothers with buggies.”
On November 11, Martin Chamberlain QC, for FirstGroup, appealed against that ruling. He said it was an example of a long-running problem on public transport that had produced conflicting court decisions and bus operators were now seeking legal clarity.
First Group had appealed because of their need to know “what they are legally required to do and how,” he said. The case also affected “the expectation of disabled people to be able to access public transport.”
Giles Fearnley, Managing Director, First UK Bus said: “There were two conflicting judgments in 2013 regarding priority access to the wheelchair space on buses. We appealed so that everyone – bus companies and users alike – can achieve some clarity in this key matter.
“Our policy is to clearly ask other customers to make way for wheelchair passengers. We remain strongly committed to that policy and to helping wheelchair and other disabled customers to the best of our ability. However, bus drivers do not have any legal power to instruct or force customers (which can include the elderly and parents or guardians with children) to vacate the space used by wheelchair users. To ask drivers to apply this policy without any legal power would place them in an impossible position.
“We recognise how important it is that bus services are accessible to all customers ? indeed we are leading the industry in improving bus travel for disabled passengers. We’ve presented our case and look forward to learning the outcome of the appeal.”