A long-running legal battle over whether bus companies must require people to give up disabled spaces to wheelchair users has moved to the Supreme Court.
Doug Paulley is arguing that FirstGroup discriminated against him in 2012, when one of its drivers did not take action when a mother with a child in a pushchair refused to vacate a wheelchair space on a bus in West Yorkshire.
Mr Paulley, a wheelchair user, is backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
A wheelchair user boards a bus with a free space
Initially he won his case in the County Court, which said FirstGroup could have made changes to avoid placing him at a ‘substantial disadvantage', including requiring non-wheelchair users to move if a wheelchair user needed a dedicated space.
The Court of Appeal overturned the County Court ruling, saying this would be ‘a step too far’ as drivers would have to eject every passenger who refused to move.
Doug Paulley said: ‘It’s not right that I, and other wheelchair users, should be nervously looking to see if anybody is in the wheelchair space and wondering what will happen.
‘This can cause a great deal of distress. Wheelchair spaces are the only place on the bus that wheelchair users can travel in; if they aren’t available, wheelchair users can’t travel. This is the single biggest barrier experienced by wheelchair users when accessing transport, and most wheelchair users experience this.’
According to the EHRC, the ‘Court of Appeal looked at the disadvantage the FirstGroup policy had on Mr Paulley as an individual, instead of looking at the effect such a policy might have on disabled people as a wider group’.
Chair David Isaac said: ‘This is not about pushchairs versus wheelchairs but confusing policies from bus companies that cause problems. Bus companies have a duty to allow wheelchair users to travel given how vital this is to disabled people being able to live independent lives.’
Giles Fearnley, managing director of First Bus, said the company recognised how important it is that bus services are accessible for all customers.
He said:'We believe that our current policy, which is to ask other customers in the strongest polite terms to make way for a passenger in a wheelchair who needs the space, is the most feasible solution.’
Judgement in the Supreme Court case is expected at a later date.