Supreme Court rules on wheelchair bus access
19 Jan 2017
The Supreme Court has ruled this week on a long-running case brought by a disabled man refused entry to a bus because a buggy user would not move from the designated wheelchair space. It has decided that bus drivers must to more to accommodate wheelchair users, but stops short of requiring them to remove those who refuse to give up the wheelchair space to a disabled person in need of it.
The case was first brought to court in 2013 by the wheelchair user Doug Paulley who had been denied access on a FirstGroup bus when a mother with a pushchair refused to move from the wheelchair space.The case has since escalated through the Court of Appeal up to the Supreme Court. My Paulley argued that FirstGroup's policy of requiring bus drivers to just request non-wheelchair users give up the space, without taking further actions, was discriminatory.
Instead, they are now required to do more than just "request" - bus drivers should consider further steps, such as rephrasing their request as a requirement or possibly even refusing to drive on until the non-wheelchair user moves from the space.
However, the ruling did not find that bus companies can remove non-wheelchair users from the bus, and instead places a lot of responsibility on individual bus drivers, whose actions in these cases may not always be consistent - the feedback we've had from customers previously is that while some bus drivers are excellent at helping wheelchair users, others are less good at this. This continues to leave uncertainty for wheelchair users, who are still not guaranteed access to the wheelchair space on a bus.
Having said that, the ruling does have implications for service providers beyond just buses, and should require that they do more to accommodate disabled people, for example with disabled parking spaces, or disabled loos on trains.
Doug Paulley has expressed happiness with the ruling, noting that "There's always got to be some judgement and there will always be some exceptional circumstances where somebody can't be expected to move out of the space" and that he felt the ruling was "very clear".