Wheelchairs, buses & discrimination

Posted: 16th December 2014

bus2In a test case tackling the outer limits of disability discrimination, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a bus company was not obliged to have in place a policy requiring mothers with pushchairs to make way for wheelchair users.

Wheelchair-bound Doug Paulley, supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, sued bus company First Group under the Equality Act 2010 after a mother with a sleeping child in a buggy refused to vacate a wheelchair bay on an urban bus. Although the driver asked the mother to move, he did not insist and Mr Paulley was forced to dismount because he could not be carried safely.

A judge initially found that there had been disability discrimination and awarded the claimant £5,500 in damages. In allowing the bus company’s appeal, the Court of Appeal found that the judge had gone ‘a step too far’.

The Court noted that mothers with pushchairs normally had a choice as to where to sit on a bus and should, as a matter of common decency, make way for wheelchair users. However, the company was not required to adopt a policy which compelled other passengers to vacate wheelchair bays, irrespective of their reason for occupying them, on pain of being thrown off the bus, leaving no discretion to the driver.

Lors Justice Underhill observed, “In the present state of the law something must still be left to the good sense and conscience of individuals.”

The case may yet continue to the Supreme Court.