Campaigners have protested outside the Department for Transport (DfT) to call for new laws that would protect the rights of wheelchair-users to use buses, on the second anniversary of a ground-breaking Supreme Court victory.
Two years ago (on 18 January), the Supreme Court ruled 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.
It was the first case of disability discrimination in service provision to be heard by the country’s highest court, and the victory followed a five-year legal battle by accessible transport activist Doug Paulley.
He had had been planning to travel to Leeds to visit his parents in February 2012, but he was prevented from entering a bus because the driver refused to insist that a mother with a sleeping child in a pushchair should move from the only wheelchair space.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in January 2017 that disabled passengers have a right to priority access over the wheelchair space on a bus, and that a driver must do more than simply ask a non-disabled passenger to move.
But two years on, many users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters say that too little has changed since the ruling, and that parents with buggies often refuse to move from the space.
Although some drivers pay attention to the Supreme Court ruling, many others ignore it.
Following the ruling, the government set up a group of advisers to produce recommendations for action, which were finally published last March and recommended new powers for drivers and fresh guidance.
DfT welcomed the recommendations “in principle” but announced a further consultation with “a view to bringing forward a package of measures” later in 2018.
It has so far failed to produce those measures.
Transport for All, which campaigns for accessible transport for older and disabled people in London, held a protest outside DfT on Friday (pictured), on the second anniversary of Paulley’s victory.
Nina Grant, a wheelchair-user from north London who took part in the protest, told Disability News Service (DNS) that the situation had improved “a little bit” since the Doug Paulley victory.
But she said there had not been “any real progress”.
She said: “Overall, things have not really changed. I take the bus maybe four to six times a week in a good week and I will have issues in maybe two of those.
“Sometimes I manage to persuade the driver to help me. Sometimes I am allowed to plead my own case to the people with the buggy and sometimes I am told to get the next bus. But what happens when the next bus also has a buggy?”
She now takes out her phone when a bus approaches, so the driver is aware that she may be recording his actions.
She said: “I make it look like I am. If I see there is a buggy, I will take a photo of the bus number plate in case I have to make a complaint. They are more likely to comply [if I do that].
“I have seen one or two drivers tell the person with the buggy that they need to move, but they seem to be the rare exception.
“I shouldn’t have to have my phone out recording for them to do what is put down in the guide book for them.”
She added: “Every time I complain I am told, ‘That’s really bad, we will feed it back.’
“I don’t know what is fed back but it doesn’t seem to have much of an effect.”
Jeff Harvey, another wheelchair-user who took part in the protest, told DNS that he was forced to rely on buses in London because there were so few accessible underground stations.
But he frequently experiences conflict over the wheelchair space, just as Paulley did.
He said: “Doug’s case should have had a big effect on that but unfortunately because of the lack of action by the DfT and parliament it has only had a small positive influence.
“Every time I take a bus I get ready for a fight. My stress level goes up just waiting.”
Sometimes he will go a few weeks without an incident but then he will experience several in one day, he said.
He added: “It can be very frustrating. It can be very time-consuming, especially when I have to wait for another bus.”
Another wheelchair-user, John, said he experiences such problems less frequently than before the Paulley ruling “but it still happens”.
He said: “It is always stressful just waiting for a bus.”
A DfT spokesperson refused to say why it had not yet published its “package of measures” or if the department agreed that too little had changed since the Supreme Court ruling.
But she said in a statement: “We are clear that disabled people must have the same opportunities to travel as other members of society.
“Wheelchair spaces on buses should already be available to those who need them, and this government will be announcing further plans to improve access in due course.”
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