19 January, 2017
The Supreme Court has ruled in the favour of a disabled activist in respect of his campaign for priority use of wheelchair spaces on buses.
Mr Paulley is a wheelchair user who attempted to board a bus on 24 February 2012. A woman with a sleeping child in a pushchair refused to fold down the pushchair and move in accordance with a sign that stated 'please give up this space for a wheelchair user' and despite being asked to do so by the bus driver. This meant that Mr Paulley had to get back off at the stop and wait for another bus.
This issue concerned whether the bus company had failed to make reasonable adjustments to its policies contrary to Section 29(2) of the Equality Act. Under Section 29 of the Act, a public service provider must not discriminate against a person requiring its services by not providing the person with the service, and it must make reasonable adjustments to avoid substantial disadvantage to disabled persons. The Supreme Court, with a Judgement led by Lord Neuberger, states that the bus company's policy requiring a driver to simply request a non-wheelchair user to vacate the space without taking any further steps was unjustified. Lord Neuberger stated "Where the driver concludes that non-wheelchair users' refusal is unreasonable, it seems to me that it would be unjustifiable for a bus-operating company to have a policy which does not require some further step of the bus driver".
In light of this, if a driver were to consider that a refusal to move was unreasonable, further steps to pressurise or shame the non-wheelchair user to move should be considered including a refusal to drive on for several minutes if appropriate. However, there will be no requirement of the ejection of a passenger as any absolute rule that non-wheelchair users must move from such a space would be unreasonable.
The Supreme Court however did not award any damages to Mr Paulley as it was held that even if the bus company had required it's drivers to be more forceful there was no way of concluding that Mr Paulley would not have been placed in the disadvantage that he was. Therefore, despite the ruling an award of damages was not possible.
The Supreme Court Judgement emphasised the need for legislative changes in this regard and given that the Bus Services Bill is currently going through the Parliamentary process it is possible that Parliamentary consideration may well take account of this decision.