In the case of wheelchair versus buggy, common sense finally prevails
In a judgment that henceforth will be known as the Paulley judgement, wheelchair user Doug Paulley has won a hard-fought battle to give wheelchair users on public transport priority over passengers with a baby buggy.
It has taken five years to finally resolve a row with bus company First Group over who has priority to a wheelchair space – someone actually in a wheelchair, or someone travelling with a baby buggy.
The row developed in February 2012 when the then 36-year-old was prevented from boarding a bus because a woman with a buggy refused to move to make space for his wheelchair. Even though the driver asked the passenger to move, she refused and the driver could not allow Mr Paulley to board.
A court initially awarded Mr Paulley, from West Yorkshire, £5.500 damages but First Group won an appeal in which three senior judges decided that transport firms are not required to force one traveller to make way for the other.
Even as they ruled, the judges suggested that wheelchair users campaign Parliament to strengthen the powers of bus drivers to insist people vacate the wheelchair space.
Now, finally, the Supreme Court has supported Mr Paulley's argument, ruling that the driver should have taken further steps to pressurise the buggy owner into making space.
Justice Lord Neuberger hearing the case said that where the driver considers that the non-wheelchair users’ refusal is unreasonable, a bus-operating company should exercise a policy that requires further action from the driver.
Justice Lord Neuberger said.
“Where there is some other place on the bus to which a non-wheelchair user could move, I cannot see why a driver should not be expected to rephrase any polite request as a requirement,”
Lord Neuberger also suggested that the bus could be halted for a few minutes to apply pressure to the "unreasonable and unmoved passenger".
Although Mr Paulley said he was delighted by this significant cultural change, the court stopped short of requiring bus operators to compel passengers to make space for wheelchair users. The judges did however reiterate that legislative change was needed and the bus services bill will now go before Parliament.
The Transport Select Committee said it will have to consider its position following the Paulley judgment.
“Richard Lane, head of communications at Scope, a charity which campaigns for disabled people, said: “This is an important milestone. It’s a victory for common sense, and disabled customers will now want to see action from travel companies. Wheelchair spaces on buses exist because of a sustained campaign by disabled people. But today many wheelchair users still face difficulties accessing the spaces on buses, often causing a great deal of distress. This ruling sends a clear message to transport providers right across the country that they have a responsibility to make travel easier and more comfortable for all of their customers.”
By Andrew Morgan, Partner
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