Criminal law ‘could be next weapon in bus access war’


newslatestBus-drivers who prevent wheelchair-users travelling on their vehicles are potentially committing a criminal offence and should be prosecuted, according to a disabled campaigner.

Wheelchair-user Doug Paulley discovered the existence of the criminal offences while researching public transport regulations, as part of his campaign to improve disabled people’s access to buses.

But the Department for Transport (DfT) has admitted that – as far as it knows – no-one has ever been prosecuted under the PSVAR rules.

Paulley said: “My interest is the same reason that disabled people back in the 80s and 90s chained themselves to buses: Let us ride! We should all be able to use the public transport system.”

Drivers have refused to stop as he hailed them from a bus stop near his home in Wetherby, west Yorkshire, with one even waving Paulley away as he drove past.

Others have refused to clear the wheelchair space for him when it was occupied by mothers with pushchairs, or to operate a wheelchair-ramp because they claimed they had not been trained to use it.

Paulley is now questioning why there has never been a single prosecution, despite the regulations placing clear legal duties on bus-drivers.

Disabled campaigners have so far relied on the Equality Act to try to force companies to ensure their buses are accessible.

But Paulley believes that the Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers) (Amendment) Regulations 2002 – which detail how public service vehicles should be made more accessible to disabled people – could prove to be more powerful.

Paulley is one of two wheelchair-users taking cases against bus companies – under the Equality Act – for failing to ensure they have priority in using the wheelchair space.

Although Paulley was successful in his county court action, the other claimant lost her case. The two cases will be heard together by the court of appeal later this year.

Paulley discovered the criminal aspect of the transport regulations by reading the papers that had been prepared for his court case.

He subsequently submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to DfT, which has confirmed that it was unaware of any bus-driver being prosecuted for failing to comply with the duty.

Paulley said: “Why would they go to the point of passing that legislation and then have nobody ever enforce it?

“Next time a driver tells me they haven’t been trained to operate the ramp, or drives straight past me when I’m clearly indicating I want to catch the bus, or similar, I may well call the police and insist they enforce the law; if necessary, by personally blocking the passage of the bus until they do.”

Lianna Etkind, campaigns and outreach coordinator for the user-led charity Transport for All, added: “Disabled transport users might well ask themselves why the law governing the obligations of bus drivers towards their passengers exists, if it cannot be enforced.

“Cuts to legal aid mean it is increasingly difficult for disabled passengers to see justice carried out when we experience discrimination. We would like to see the police take contravention of PSVAR regulations far more seriously.”

A DfT spokesman said: “Contravention of these regulations is a criminal offence. It is the department’s view that these may be enforced by any relevant prosecuting authority that has an interest or by any person who feels that a breach of the regulations has taken place.”

But he added: “Following completion of the government’s recent Red Tape Challenge, the Department for Transport is committed to review these regulations and we will shortly be undertaking a public consultation exercise.”

A Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman said: “We can only deal with cases referred to us by an investigating body.

“If such a matter were to be investigated as a criminal matter and a file was passed to us, we would make a charging decision as we would with [any other case].”

9 January 2014