In England, the space reserved on a transit bus is under fire after a woman with a baby buggy was able to take the spot and leave a wheelchair user behind. Appeal judges sided with the woman and said a “mother with a baby buggy was within her rights” to occupy a bus wheelchair bay. This decision has outraged disabled people around the world, but particularly in England where the ruling was passed down.
The man left behind, Doug Paulley, has enlisted the help of state-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission that stated: “This judgment means a wheelchair user has no effective legal rights if unable to gain access to a bus because a traveler blocks the designated wheelchair space”.
The issue became a legal case after Paulley was told he could not board a bus after a woman refused to move her buggy and make room. A judge at Leeds County Court ruled the bus company, FirstGroup, was in breach if it’s duty under the Equality Act of 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, and awarded 5,500 pounds damaged to Mr. Paulley.
However, one of the appeal judges said this decision suggested the needs of wheelchair users “trumped” all other considerations. Lord Justice Lewinson, sitting with Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice Underhill, said there was no law which says bus companies must force selfish passengers to make space for a wheelchair. They suggested wheelchair users take their case to Parliament for consideration.
While the justices agreed that common decency would expect other passengers to move for a wheelchair user, they said that by law the needs of a wheelchair user do not trump all other considerations.
Lord Justice Lewinson said the case was “not about whether non-wheelchair users should move out to accommodate a passenger in a wheelchair. Of course they should if possible”. Lady Justice Arden added that drivers should instead be taught to pile pressure on selfish passengers.
Paulley, who intends to push his case to the Supreme Court said, “It is a question of not only knowing whether you are going to be able to get on a bus but whether there is going to be some conflict. Inter-personal conflict is not very pleasant. It is one of the many stresses of getting around in a wheelchair”.
Wheelchairs users in England are already hindered by a public transport system that is still widely inaccessible and unpredictable, often leaving disabled people facing long delays and extended travel times.