A police force has confirmed that it is willing to launch criminal investigations into bus drivers who refuse to allow wheelchair-users onto their vehicles without a good reason.
West Yorkshire Police has promised to alert its call centre staff to long-standing legislation that says bus-drivers have an obligation under criminal law to conform to “conduct regulations” that govern how they should treat disabled passengers.
The move came in response to a query from accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley, who had asked his local police and crime commissioner (PCC) to confirm that police officers would take action if the wheelchair space on a bus was free but the driver had refused to allow a wheelchair-user on board.
He pointed out that such a refusal was a breach of conduct regulations that date back to 2002, but that bus-drivers and police officers were not usually aware that such behaviour was a criminal offence.
Paulley (pictured) is now calling on disabled people and other campaigners to contact their police forces and police and crime commissioners “to encourage them to take similar proactive action”.
Paulley told the West Yorkshire PCC’s office: “As far as everybody knows, nobody has ever taken legal action over a driver’s refusal to take a wheelchair on board where the space is free.
“Yet the law has been in place since 2002, and there have been any number of instances where drivers have refused wheelchair users, even when the space is free. I have experienced it myself.
“To me, this flies in the face of equality, disabled people’s rights and the intent of Parliament.”
The office of West Yorkshire PCC Mark Burns-Williamson has now been told by the force that it will log any reports of bus access issues and will conduct an inquiry “on the evidence available”.
The PCC’s office told Paulley: “Prosecutions could subsequently be considered.
“The police would therefore encourage anyone to contact [West Yorkshire] police if they believe they have been a victim of this crime.
“They have acknowledged your concerns about lack of awareness of the legislation and have taken steps to ensure the force’s contact centre staff are informed to ensure that any calls are handled appropriately.”
The conduct regulations also state that bus drivers must accept passengers with assistance dogs; operate a ramp when a wheelchair-user wishes to get on or off the bus; ensure wheelchair-users are “correctly and safely positioned” in the wheelchair space before driving off; and allow a wheelchair-user onto the bus even if the wheelchair space is occupied, as long as any passenger in the space can be easily moved to another part of the bus.
Breaches of each of these and other conduct regulations on access are also a criminal offence, Paulley has pointed out.
Failure to comply with them could result in a driver receiving a criminal conviction, a fine of up to £500, and an endorsement of their driving licence.
A spokeswoman for West Yorkshire Police confirmed that what Paulley was told by the PCC’s office was accurate, but she had not been able to respond in more detail by noon today (Thursday).
Paulley told Disability News Service: “I think it’s great that the police have recognised that this is a crime, that there are victims and that the law should be enforced.
“There’s little point in having a law that is ignored and not enforced.
“We need to publicise this as much as possible, so that bus drivers know they will face consequences if they don’t comply with their duties.
“It would be great if other forces followed suit. I’d encourage disabled people and their allies to contact their local police and crime commissioners to ask that their police force does similar.
“It is a common crime that must be targeted and dealt with. A minority of bus drivers see a wheelchair-user at a kerb and just can’t be bothered, driving straight past even if the wheelchair space is available.
“The other crimes listed are even more common. Wheelchair-users know that it is common for drivers to ignore the blue button alert that a wheelchair-user wants to get off. Such drivers are breaking the law and should be fined.
“I hope that wheelchair-users, assistance dog-users and others will enforce their rights across the country and report the driver when they are subjected to these crimes.”
In January, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that First Bus had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act through its “first come, first served” policy on the use of wheelchair spaces, in the final legal stage of a pioneering and long-running case brought by Paulley.