Doug Paulley was told he could not get on a bus to Leeds in 2012 when a mother with a pushchair refused to move.
He says FirstGroup’s “requesting, not requiring” policy is discriminatory, but the bus operator says it is the most feasible that can be employed.
Mr Paulley won an initial case against the operator FirstGroup Plc, declaring its policy of “requesting, not requiring” able-bodied passengers to move to be unlawful disability discrimination.
FirstGroup appealed successfully to the Court of Appeal in 2014.
This is a case about a man getting on a bus, but it has resulted in a four-year legal battle that has now reached the highest court in the land. The result will have implications for all disabled persons who rely on public transport and who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids.
Under the Equality Act 2010, companies providing services must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the disabled.
Mr Paulley was awarded £5,500 in compensation and FirstGroup was given six months to change its policy of asking – but not making – able-bodied passengers vacate the wheelchair space.
But the judgement in Mr Paulley’s favour was reversed by the Court of Appeal in 2014, which ruled that although wheelchair users have priority to occupy the wheelchair space, there is no legal requirement for bus drivers to move other passengers from it.
Mr Paulley appealed against that ruling and now what has been dubbed the “battle between the wheelchair and the buggy” has reached the highest court in the land.
Mr Paulley’s case is being funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Its chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath told the BBC: “For us, this case is about sending a message across the country to bus companies to put in place policies, clear guidelines, training for bus drivers so that they are able to manage the situation so that they give priority to those in wheelchairs.”
The case is the first disability discrimination case involving service providers to be heard by the Supreme Court.
FirstGroup maintains that its policy of “requesting, not requiring” able-bodied people to move from the wheelchair space is lawful. Giles Fearnley, managing director of its bus division, said: “It is very rare for a passenger to refuse to move. “Our drivers will ask a passenger in the strongest, politest way they can to move, and we train them to do so. When someone does refuse to move it is extraordinarily unfortunate, but we do believe that the approach we take is the most feasible under the circumstances.”
The judgment is expected to have wide-ranging implications for bus, train and other transport companies and service providers.
We hope that the High Court see’s sense and takes advice from disability groups. The Equality Act has been in place for many years, but the token effort many companies offer is not good enough, Mr Paulley is doing so much for the disabled community by persisting with this and we support him wholeheartedly.
Talking of support, we need you to support our petition to government to protect disabled parking bays here in the UK. Please champion it for us, sign and keep sharing it.
Click HERE to go to the petition page.