Wheelchair priority to be tested in the Supreme Court

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FirstGroup vows to continue to make the case that its current policy complies with the law and is the most practical solution for all

The question on whether wheelchair users should have priority on buses over buggies is to be considered by the highest court in the land. In granting Doug Paulley permission to appeal last week, the UK Supreme Court has raised the possibility that buggies will no longer be allowed to block wheelchairs on buses – because it raises issues of public importance.

Mr Paulley’s case is being supported and funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). A date has not yet been set for the Supreme Court hearing.

In February 2012 he tried to board a First bus from Wetherby to Leeds, only to find that the only available space was occupied by a woman with a sleeping child in a pushchair. The driver asked her to fold down the chair and move. She refused, insisting that her pushchair would not fold. Mr Paulley offered to fold down his own wheelchair and sit in an ordinary seat, but the driver said it would not be possible to secure his chair safely on the winding roads of West Yorkshire. Mr Paulley waited for the next bus, missed his train at Leeds, and arrived at his destination an hour late. He sued FirstGroup for unlawful discrimination, and was awarded compensation of £5,500.

In 2013 Leeds County Court ruled FirstGroup’s policy of requesting but not requiring non-disabled travellers to vacate the priority bay was unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 – and said disabled users should have priority access to wheelchair spaces. However, last December the Court of Appeal said the “proper remedy” for wheelchair users to get improvements was to ask Parliament.

Reacting to news of the Supreme Court hearing, a First Bus spokesperson told CBW: “The Court of Appeal decision in 2014 gave our customers, drivers and the wider industry much needed clarification around the priority use of the wheelchair space on board buses. The court’s judgment endorsed our current policy, which is to ask other passengers in the strongest polite terms to make way for wheelchair users.

“We note Mr Paulley has been given permission to appeal the Court of Appeal decision. We will continue to make the case that our current policy both complies with the law and remains the most practical solution for all concerned.

“We recognise how important it is that bus services are accessible for all customers – indeed we are leading the industry in improving bus travel for customers with disabilities. That good work is continuing.”