In a test case that affects all UK bus operators, the Court of Appeal has overturned a ruling by Leeds Crown Court, about the rights of wheelchair users on buses.
It means that the current interpretation of the law – that other passengers, such as those with buggies can only be asked to vacate the wheelchair space not be forced to leave it – is upheld.
Doug Paulley, 36, was denied access to a First bus to Leeds when a woman with a pushchair refused to move because her baby was asleep. He took First to court and won at Leeds County Court, which ordered First to pay 5,500 in damages. However, First appealed the judgement.
Both First and Mr Paulley have made it clear that the issue was not about how the particular incident was handled, about which there are no complaints, but the general principle about access to the wheelchair space if it is occupied by a non-wheelchair user.
First’s policy is one of â€œrequestingâ€ non-disabled travellers, including those with babies and pushchairs, to vacate space needed by a wheelchair user.
In September, a county court judge said the firm’s policy â€œfirst come, first servedâ€ was unlawful discrimination in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
However, three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled the â€œproper remedyâ€ for wheelchair users to get improvements in such cases, is to ask Parliament to change the law.
Commenting on the decision, First UK Bus MD Giles Fearnley said: â€œThe verdict has given our passengers, drivers and the wider transport industry much needed clarification about the priority use of the wheelchair space on board buses, following two previous conflicting rulings.
â€œOur current policy, which is to ask other passengers in the strongest polite terms to make way for those who need the space, will remain in place.
â€œWe recognise how important it is that bus services are accessible for all customers – indeed we are leading the industry in improving bus travel for disabled customers. That good work will continue.â€