On the 8th December 2014, the Court of Appeal pronounced that it is not discrimination under the terms of the Equality Act 2010 if a bus driver does not compel a buggy user to move and make space for a wheelchair user. The judgement goes against a previous judgement in favour of Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user who took legal action after being refused access onto a bus because a buggy user was in the wheelchair space.
This is not the end of the line for the battle for our right to ride: Unity Law, the firm that has been representing Doug, has lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court.
There is also some good news for wheelchair users fed up with being denied access to buses: the ruling states that bus companies must ‘take all reasonable steps’ to get buggy users to make space for wheelchair users, including providing training for bus drivers on getting buggy users to move; putting up notices, and even refusing to drive on until the wheelchair space is cleared. FirstBus currently takes none of these steps, so its not clear why Doug’s case was overturned instead of upheld.
Bus companies urgently need to get moving on taking these steps – or they risk being sued for damages. Almost every wheelchair-using bus user has had the experience of being refused access onto a bus. Even here in London, where TfL’s official policy supports wheelchair priority, being left at the bus stop when a wheelchair space is occupied is a regular occurence.
Commenting on the judgement on his blog, Doug states:
“We remain committed to the principle that if it’s fine to have someone thrown off the bus for eating a kebab, or committing a general nuisance, then it’s both practical and legal to enforce the principle that disabled people who can only travel in the space designed and designated for wheelchair users have an absolute right to occupy it over non-disabled people.“
Disabled people campaigned for years for a wheelchair space and the ability to use buses on an equal footing with everyone else. With buggy users outnumbering wheelchair users by about ten to one,this judgement means that this winter, wheelchair users across the country could be forced to wait on the street while bus after bus flies past with wheelchair space is occupied. This is simply unfair and unjust.
The battle isn’t over yet. We will continue to fight until all disabled people can travel with the same freedom and independence as everyone else.