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Disability rights campaigners have hailed a recent ruling by the Supreme Court that bus drivers must try to persuade other passengers to make room for wheelchair users.

Disability rights campaigners have hailed a recent ruling by the Supreme Court that bus drivers must try to persuade other passengers to make room for wheelchair users.

The Supreme Court has unanimously held that bus operator First Group's policy, regarding the wheelchair space on its buses, was in breach of it's duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.

The case, brought by a wheelchair user who was unable to board a bus from Wetherby to Leeds, highlights the need for legislative changes and a bus services bill is currently going through parliament.

Doug Paulley attempted to get on a First Group bus in February 2012 but the wheelchair space was being used by a mother with a pushchair and a sleeping child. The woman rejected the bus driver’s request to move or to fold the pushchair and so the driver told Mr Paulley that he could not board the vehicle. As a result, Mr Paulley missed his train connection at Leeds and was unable to meet his parents for lunch that day.

First Group’s policy at that time required a that driver should request a non-wheelchair user to vacate the wheelchair space but without taking any further steps if they should refuse; however, the Supreme Court Justices ruled that First Group's policy was unjustified. In it's ruling, the court allowed Mr Paulley’s appeal to the extent that the driver should have taken further steps to pressurise the non-wheelchair user into making space.

The President of The Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger said “Where there is some other place on the bus to which a non-wheelchair user could move, I cannot see why a driver should not be expected to rephrase any polite request as a requirement.”

Lord Neuberger added that if that did not work and if the bus was ahead of schedule, the bus could even be halted for a few minutes to apply pressure to the unreasonable passenger.

Mr Paulley took his claim for discrimination to the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeal in 2014 decided transport firms were not required to force one traveller to make way for another.

Welcoming the Supreme Court's decision, Mr 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 put so much time, effort and passion into it. I know it was done for the cause”. By a majority of four to three justices, however, the court decided not to award Mr Paulley any damages.

Richard Lane, head of communications at disability charity Scope, said: “This is an important milestone. It’s a victory for common sense, and disabled customers will now want to see action from travel companies. Most people don’t realise just how difficult it is for disabled people to get around, to get to the shops, or to visit friends. These spaces are often a lifeline into work and the local community”.

If you would like further information or advice about equality legislation, please contact Chris Wiper on 01325 466461 or email chris.wiper@close-thornton.co.uk.

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