A disabled campaigner who is battling to protect the rights of wheelchair-users to travel on buses has won permission for his appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court.
Doug Paulley (pictured) has been told by the court that it will hear his discrimination case – which is backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – against transport company First Bus.
Paulley, from Wetherby, took the case against First Bus following an incident in February 2012.
He had been planning to travel to Leeds, but was prevented from entering the bus because the driver refused to insist that a mother with a pushchair should move from the wheelchair space.
He told Disability News Service that he was “relieved” and “really glad” about the Supreme Court’s decision, although it is unlikely to be heard until the latter part of 2016 at the earliest.
He said: “It would have been a travesty if they had not [agreed to hear the appeal], given the huge support from lots of disabled people and that [the appeal] is being bank-rolled by the EHRC.”
Paulley said the case wouldn’t have got so far “without so many disabled people sticking their necks out and campaigning around it and making it such a public issue”.
And he said the case going to the Supreme Court would “certainly make a lot of people think and talk about it”.
He said he now rarely used buses because of the effect the “extra layer of stress” caused by the incident – and the uncertainty he now feels when he uses a bus – had had on his mental health problems.
Disabled campaigners were left “appalled” in December when three court of appeal judges found in favour of First Bus, and against Paulley.
That judgement over-turned a county court ruling that wheelchair-users should have priority in the use of dedicated wheelchair spaces over parents with pushchairs, and that the “first come, first served” policy of First Bus breached the Equality Act.
Instead, the court of appeal said that a bus driver needs only to request – and not demand – that a buggy-user vacates the space if it is needed by a wheelchair-user.
A First Bus spokesman said today (Thursday): “The court of appeal decision in 2014 gave our customers, drivers and the wider industry much-needed clarification around the priority use of the wheelchair space on board buses.
“The court’s judgment endorsed our current policy, which is to ask other passengers in the strongest polite terms to make way for wheelchair-users.
“We note Mr Paulley has been given permission to appeal the court of appeal decision. We will continue to make the case that our current policy both complies with the law and remains the most practical solution for all concerned.”
The importance of Paulley’s case was highlighted this week when it was mentioned several times in the first evidence session of a committee set up by the House of Lords to examine the impact of the Equality Act 2010 on disabled people.
The Conservative peer Lord Northbrook was one of those who mentioned the Paulley case, when he questioned whether the law on service-providers’ duties to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people was “sufficiently precise”.
Meanwhile, on the same day that the Supreme Court announced its decision, campaigners revealed that another transport company, National Express, had scrapped its own “first come, first served” policy on its buses, and replaced it with a wheelchair priority policy.
The move followed a question asked by disabled athlete Susan Cook at the company’s annual general meeting (AGM) on 6 May, after which she had secured a meeting with two of the company’s top executives.
Cook was supported by the user-led, campaigning charity Transport for All, and ShareAction, which helps people attend company meetings and raise issues with directors.
Cook said: “It was great to use my power as a shareholder to secure a meeting with the company and persuade them to change their policy.
“I’m glad National Express saw sense on this issue and I’m looking forward to going to more AGMs to raise disability rights issues in future.”
Lianna Etkind, campaigns and outreach coordinator at Transport for All, said: “Being able to use public transport is an essential part of a full and active life, getting to work, having access to healthcare and education, or a social life, with freedom and independence.
“We’re pleased National Express listened to reason and have decided to change their policy on wheelchair priority. It was great to work with Susan and ShareAction to bring about this change.”
National Express has already announced plans to introduce a “turn up and go” service on its c2c train services in Essex from September, so disabled people needing assistance will be able to arrive at stations and have staff help them, without needing to book in advance.
National Express will be the first private train company to offer this service in the UK and has also pledged to be the first train operator to make a route completely accessible.