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UK Supreme Court ruling: Wheelchair spaces on buses must be a priority

January 24th 2017

In a recent judgement from the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the court found that bus companies must end discriminatory ‘first come, first served’ policies, and do more to give priority to wheelchair users. Bus companies should have clear policies in place, and give training to drivers to remove the barriers wheelchair users face when using buses.

Wheelchair user denied access

In February 2012, Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user, tried to board a bus from Wetherby to Leeds. The wheelchair space was being used by a mother with a pushchair and a sleeping child, and the woman refused to move or fold the pushchair. The driver eventually told Mr Paulley he could not board the bus.

Supreme Court victory

Mr Paulley successfully sued the bus company at Leeds County Court for unlawful discrimination against him due to his disability, but this was later overturned on appeal. The case was then heard by the Supreme Court, which gave its final verdict on 18 January. The court found that Mr Paulley had been discriminated against, and also suggested that the law should be reconsidered in order to provide much needed clarity for bus companies and their customers.

Support form the Equality and Human Rights Commission

The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission has supported Mr Paulley at the Court of Appeal and at the Supreme Court, and Commission Chair David Isaac called today’s verdict “a victory for disabled people’s rights”. The Commission will also be pressing the government to commit necessary changes in the Bus Services Bill.

The ‘Paulley Principle’

After the verdict was delivered, Paulley’s solicitor at at Unity Law, Chris Fry, stated: “This decision delivers cultural and practical change for disabled people. It establishes what we are calling the ‘Paulley Principle’ which is that bus companies have to give priority use to disabled customers over the wheelchair space. If you need a wheelchair to get around and have had to endure the stress and anxiety of not knowing whether you’re going to be able to get on a bus, this Judgment changes your everyday life. The law is on your side.”

Further rading

More information can be found on the webpage of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.