The courts are finally set to provide a clear and definitive ruling on disabled people’s right to access wheelchair spaces on buses in the UK.
Two county court cases which saw disabled people take action under the Equality Act against bus companies will now be heard together at the court of appeal, probably next summer.
The first of the cases saw a judge rule that Arriva North East’s
“first come, first served” policy
on the wheelchair space on their buses did not breach the Equality Act.
Wheelchair-user Jane Elliott had described how an Arriva driver refused to allow her onto his bus because there was a pushchair occupying the wheelchair space.
The judge ruled that – although such incidents could potentially breach the Equality Act – Elliott had not experienced “substantial disadvantage” because the incident had taken place in the early afternoon, she was not in an “isolated or potentially dangerous area”, and another bus was likely to arrive in about 10 minutes.
Four months later, a second judge, this time at Leeds county court, ruled that wheelchair-users should have priority over other bus-users in wheelchair spaces, and that First Group’s own “first come, first served” policy had breached the act.
This case had been taken by wheelchair-user Doug Paulley, from Wetherby, who had been planning to travel to Leeds in February 2012, but was prevented from entering the bus because the driver refused to insist that a mother with a pushchair should move from the wheelchair space.
Recorder Paul Isaacs concluded in his written judgment that it was reasonable that “the system of priority given to wheelchair-users should be enforced as a matter not of request, to any non-disabled user of the wheelchair space, but of requirement”.
Now a senior judge has ruled that both cases should be heard together by the court of appeal.
Unity Law, which represents the disabled passengers in both cases, said the appeal was “set to become the first and leading case on accessible transport and will provide clarity for disabled passengers on public transport of all types”.
Chris Fry, from Unity Law, said: “We are pleased that the issue of who should have priority over the wheelchair spaces on buses will now be considered by a panel of senior judges.
“It’s an opportunity for the thousands of wheelchair-users in the UK to finally get a definitive answer on this issue.”
Such a ruling could force other bus, train and tram companies with similar “first come, first served” policies to take action.
John Pring 12.20.2013