Court backs wheelchair user who was stopped from boarding bus

A wheelchair user who was unable to board a bus in Yorkshire has won a partial victory at the supreme court that should help secure more priority places for disabled passengers.

Doug Paulley tried to get on a FirstGroup bus from Wetherby to Leeds in 2012 but the wheelchair space was being used by a mother with a pushchair and a sleeping child.

The woman rejected the driver’s request to move or fold the pushchair and so the driver told Paulley he could not board the vehicle.

In its ruling on Wednesday, the court allowed Paulley’s appeal to the extent that the driver should have considered taking further steps to pressurise the non-wheelchair user into leaving the space.

His test case has been supported by the the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which has called on bus operators to ensure that those confined to wheelchairs can travel more easily.

Paulley took his claim for discrimination to the supreme court after the court of appeal in 2014 decided that transport firms were not required to force one traveller to make way for another.

By a majority of four to three justices, however, the court decided not to award damages to Paulley.

Welcoming the decision, Paulley 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. I’m incredibly grateful that so many people gave put so much time, effort and passion into it. I know it was done for the cause.

“We have achieved something here that will make a difference not just for wheelchair users but for other disabled people.”

Chris Fry, of the law firm Unity Law who represented Paulley, told disability campaigners who had attended the hearing: “It’s a win for Doug and all of you so that you will have an expectation that you will have a right to travel.

“Three of the supreme court justices would have gone as far as saying that the policy should go as far as removing people from the bus who do not comply [with a request to make room].”

The judgment, Fry said, replaced the old “request and retreat” policy for drivers with a more forceful “request and require” policy.

“It’s the Paulley Principle. We now have priority and right of access. We know that parliament us interested in this case. There’s a lot more to do.”