In February 2012 a wheelchair user (Mr. Paulley) was not allowed to board a bus in Leeds because the wheelchair space he would have needed for his chair was taken up by a pushchair. The mother, who refused to wake her sleeping baby, would not move. The wheelchair user had to get off and wait for the next bus; an hour’s wait!
But who had the most right to the space: a mother and baby or a disabled man in a wheelchair? According to the bus company concerned, the woman with the pushchair had more right to the space because they operate on a “first come, first served” basis.
However, in the eyes of the law, the Mr. Paulley has priority because wheelchair users are a “protected group” under the Equality Act of 2010 and therefore have a right to access to facilities, including public transport. This protection is not afforded to parents with pushchairs because other options are available to them. They could carry the child in their lap or fold the pushchair away.
Mr. Paulley was so upset by his experience that he began an 18-month court case against First Bus; and won. The judge ruled that the disabled traveler had been at substantial disadvantage because of the incident and suffered considerable stress due to the waiting for the next bus to arrive.
The bus company have actually appealed against the decision and taken it to the Court of Appeal arguing that they provided wheelchair bays on their buses and that it was not up to their driver to move the mother and her pushchair. If First Bus loses the case, their drivers would then be legally required to move people from the bays if a wheelchair user needs it and this would set a precedent for all bus and train service providers in the UK.
Parents argue that pushchairs cannot always be folded and if they have items stored underneath them, they can’t easily be collapsed and once they are collapsed, where are they to be stored if there are no bays available?
The bays were actually designated as wheelchair spaces because of protests by disability rights groups in the 1990s. If the spaces are not available, the disabled person is unable to travel.
The onus should be on the bus companies to provide suitable and accessible transport for everyone, but a little consideration and thought for those less able would not go amiss. It seems the days are gone when someone would give up their seat on the bus or train for an elderly person without a second thought and a wheelchair user would be given all the consideration and assistance possible.
Image source: Flickr