A SUPREME Court decision was hailed as a “significant cultural change” yesterday after it ruled that bus drivers must demand passengers make space for wheelchair users.
Doug Paulley brought a claim of discrimination against transport company FirstGroup in 2012 after a driver would not allow him to board a bus when a woman with a buggy refused to move from a space allocated to those who use wheelchairs.
In allowing the appeal, the Supreme Court judgement found that “simply requesting” someone to move from a wheelchair space does not meet a bus company’s obligations under the Equality Act and drivers must do more to enable access for disabled people.
Judge Lord Nueberger explained that if someone unreasonably refuses to move from a wheelchair space then the request to move should become a requirement from the driver.
He suggested that steps should be taken by the driver to “pressurise” people to move including refusing to drive on.
Outside the court Mr Paulley was cheered by other wheelchair users and disabled people.
He said: “I’m absolutely delighted. It represents a significant cultural change.
“It’s been a long fight of five years by a lot of people. We have achieved something here that will make a difference not just for wheelchair users but for other disabled people.”
The ruling was also welcomed by disability rights groups and trade unions.
“Public transport is essential for disabled people to live independently, yet bus companies have not made it easy for this to happen,” said Equality and Human Rights Commission chairman David Isaac.
“This is a victory for disabled people’s rights.”
However Unite, which represents bus drivers, expressed concerns at the “ambiguity” of the ruling.
“This ruling is a step in the right direction, but the ambiguity of it and the onus on the bus driver to resolve disputes over wheelchair spaces potentially places them in a position of conflict,” said Unite national officer for transport Bobby Morton.
He urged for bus companies to put guidelines in place for drivers so they are clear on the best course of action to take if a passenger refuses to move.
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