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Right to ride victory-Thank you Doug Paulley!

Added: 18 January 2017 | Updated: 18 January 2017

Today marks a significant step forward for the rights of wheelchair users to have priority – after Doug Paulley’s appeal was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Many Transport for all (TfA) members celebrated outside the Court after the ruling made it clear that bus drivers must do more to enforce priority for wheelchair and mobility scooter users, by requiring non-wheelchair users to make room for them in the bus’s designated wheelchair space.

Doug’s lawyer Chris Fry (Unity law) celebrated with him and his supporters “It’s a win for Doug Paulley and it’s a win for all [Disabled people] who now know than when you’re going on a bus you can have the expectation that you will be allowed the right to ride. Not a question as every morning every time you go on that bus either or not you will be turned away”.

The judgement is a victory for all Disability rights campaigners everywhere, and none of it would have been possible without Doug Paulley’s hard work and dedication throughout this arduous five year battle.

On behalf of all our members we would like to say a huge thank you to Doug and his lawyers at Unity Law, today you made history.

A daily battle

The wheelchair space did not just appear overnight. It was fought for and won by generations of Disability rights activists who lobbied successive governments and even chained themselves to inaccessible buses to make the point of equal access.

However, wheelchair and mobility scooter users still face a daily struggle to access that hard fought space. A few months ago TfA published the stories of just a few of our members and the struggles they face accessing buses across London.

This judgement is a positive step towards wheelchair and mobility scooter users reclaiming their space and with it more freedom to travel.

What does ‘Require not request’ mean for Disabled and older transport users?

Day to day it will mean that if a bus driver does not require other users to vacate the designated space for wheelchair and mobility scooter users then you could have grounds to take the operator to court. However, these cases will require proof: So if you do have issues accessing the wheelchair space on buses then please do try to record your experiences.

The judgement will have wide reaching implications for Disabled and older transport users, not only helping to ensure that wheelchair and mobility scooter users have fair access to buses but also sending clear signals to transport operators around what a ‘reasonable adjustment’ is and the actions they must take to ensure the rights of Disabled and older passengers are upheld.

Historic judgement

TfA has campaigned with Doug since the beginning of the case, which came about when he was unable to board a bus after a parent with a pushchair refused to vacate the wheelchair space. The bus driver on this occasion did not do enough to allow Doug access. A situation replicated every hour across the UK.

Leeds Crown court found that the First Bus policy of ‘requesting but not requiring’ people to move from the wheelchair space was discriminatory. However, this was later overturned at the court of appeal.

Today’s judgement has again found in favour of Doug Paulley, stating that bus operators must require, and if necessary enforce wheelchair user’s priority.

Not a case of wheelchair vs pushchair

It’s important to note that this is not a case of Disabled and older users against parents with pushchairs. Many of our members are parents too, and we appreciate that everybody has a right to use public transport.

The responsibility lies with the bus operators who must find ways to make space for both wheelchairs and pushchairs on their buses. There are many examples of councils across the country providing separate pushchair spaces in order to avoid conflict.

Going forward we will be lobbying both bus operators and pushchair manufacturers to help ensure that there is space for everyone on public transport.

Next steps

While this is a huge step forward, we recognise that the judgement could have gone further. The Court found that in cases when the bus is full, or in other exceptional circumstances the driver is may use their discretion when deciding whether to require users to vacate the space.

There is still more work to do– the Supreme Court have enforced wheelchair users right to their designated space, but we now need the Department for Transport and bus operating companies to ensure that this translates into real action.

Bus companies make handsome profits running Bus services in the UK. TfA will fight to ensure they ensure that Disabled people and wheelchair users are allowed priority access.

TfA will also fight for parliament to make laws around equal access stronger, to force transport providers to enforce the new requirements.

This article and the Courts announcement today were brief summaries of what is a lengthy and detailed judgement. If you would like to read about it in more detail you can access the full ruling here, and the Supreme Court’s press summary here.