Partial victory for wheelchair users in bus space battle
The case was triggered when wheelchair user Doug Paulley, Wetherby, attempted to board a bus operated by FirstGroup on 24th February 2012, which had a sign saying: "Please give up this space if needed for a wheelchair user".
Mr Paulley was left at the stop because a woman with a sleeping baby in a pushchair refused to move out of the designated area when asked by the bus driver. She said the buggy would not fold.
FirstGroup has a policy of "requesting but not requiring" non-disabled travellers, including those with babies and pushchairs, to vacate the space if it is needed by a wheelchair user.
A judge at Leeds County Court ruled that the policy breached FirstGroup's duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make "reasonable adjustments" for disabled people.
Recorder Paul Isaacs said the bus company policy should have "required" the woman to move and the wheelchair user's right to priority should have been enforced.
But the recorder's judgment was overturned by the Court of Appeal, which ruled that such a policy would not strike a fair balance between the needs of wheelchair users and the needs of other passengers who might be vulnerable.
The policy would also be liable to give rise to confrontation and delayed journeys.
Mr Paulley then continued his fight before seven justices at the UK's highest court on Wednesday 15th June 2016, the case considers the reasonable adjustments a bus company is required to make to accommodate disabled wheelchair users.
The Supreme Court realeased there judgement on Wednesday 18th January 2017, where they unanimously allowed Mr Paulley’s appeal, albeit to a limited extent
The Court held that FirstGroup’s policy requiring a driver to simply request a non-wheelchair user to vacate the space without taking any further steps was unjustified.
Where a driver who has made such a request concludes that a refusal is unreasonable, he or she should consider some further step to pressurise the non-wheelchair user to vacate the space, depending on the circumstances.
The majority of the Court, however, declined to uphold the award of damages to the appellant.
The Court considered that, due to the “reasonable adjustments” required to be made by a “public service provider” such as the respondent under the Equality Act 2010, s 29, the policy of FirstGroup should have required the driver to take further steps than he did in requesting that the space be vacated for Mr Paulley as a wheelchair user.
However, as it would not have been justified to require this as an absolute rule, there is a prospect that further steps would not have ensured that Mr Paulley was not placed at the disadvantage he was, and therefore an award of damages was not considered possible.