Bus drivers must pressure passengers to make room for wheelchair users.
Wheelchair user Doug Paulley was refused entry to a FirstGroup bus in 2012 when a mother with a pushchair refused to move from the wheelchair space when asked, claiming that the pushchair could not be folded. Mr Paulley was left at the bus stop. He argued that FirstGroup’s “requesting not requiring policy” was discriminatory.
On 18 January 2017, the Supreme Court found that FirstGroup did not discriminate against Mr Paulley. However, they did rule that drivers must do more to accommodate wheelchair users by considering different ways to persuade non-wheelchair users to vacate the space, without making it a legal duty to move them.
Lord Neuberger, the Supreme Court president, said that if a non-wheelchair user unreasonably refuses the driver’s request to move , the driver should consider further action to pressure the non- wheelchair user to vacate the space, depending on the circumstances.
FirstGroup said the ruling meant drivers would not have to remove customers from their vehicles while Mr Paulley said the decision would make a “major difference.”
Penny Mordaunt, the Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health, will discuss with the Department for Transport “clarity, good practice and the transport providers to ensure this ruling becomes a reality.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission described the Supreme Court ruling as “a victory for disabled people’s rights” and “a hugely important decision”. Chairman, David Isaac, said “Public transport is essential for disabled people to live independently, yet bus companies have not made it easy for this to happen.”
“For years, wheelchair users have been deterred from using vital public transport links because they could not be sure they will be able to get on.“
But it does seem that the driver has to decide whether the person being asked to move is being unreasonable in their refusal. If so, the drive must tell them they are required to move and if necessary refuse to move the bus until they shift.
Chris Fry, Mr Paulley’s solicitor said the ruling had fallen short. “The judgement should have gone further – there’s no right as things stand to force someone off a bus. So it goes as far as that, but not that far as yet.”
As one wheelchair user on BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire Programme said “It’s kind of back to square one.”