Wheelchair appeal win
A ruling against First Bus Group by Leeds County Court in favour of a wheelchair bound passenger’s right to bus access has been overturned by the Court of Appeal.
The ruling came after disabled passenger, Doug Paulley from Wetherby, West Yorkshire, attempted to board a First vehicle in Leeds in February 2012, but was denied access as the wheelchair bay was already occupied by a baby in a pushchair. The baby’s mother refused to move the pushchair at the driver’s request, for fear of waking the child and Mr Paulley was politely asked to wait for the next bus. He took the company to court and was awarded £5,500 in compensation, with the judge ruling that the ‘first come first served’ policy was unlawful discrimination in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
The company was given six months to change its policy with the decision leaving the industry in a state of confusion. Unhappy with the outcome, First appealed the decision which has now been awarded in their favour, with Lord Justice Lewison stating, ‘The judge seems to me to have thought that the needs of wheelchair users trumped all other considerations. If that is what he meant, I respectfully disagree.’
Lord Justice Underhill added, ‘It has to be accepted that our conclusion and reasoning in this case means that wheelchair users will occasionally be prevented by other passengers from using the wheelchair space on the bus. I do not, however, believe that the fact that some passengers will – albeit rarely – act selfishly and irresponsibly is a sufficient reason for imposing on bus companies a legal responsibility for a situation which is not of their making and which they are not in a position to prevent.’
Commenting on the court’s findings, MD of First Bus, Giles Fearnley, said, ‘The verdict has given our passengers, drivers and the wider transport industry much needed clarification about the priority use of the wheelchair space on board buses, following two previous conflicting rulings. Our current policy, which is to ask other passengers in the strongest polite terms to make way for those who need the space, will remain in place.’ He continued, ‘We recognise how important it is that bus services are accessible for all customers – indeed we are leading the industry in improving bus travel for disabled customers. That good work will continue.’
Lawyers for Doug Paulley have indicated their intention to appeal to the Supreme Court.