New legal battle over wheelchair bus rights row

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A woman’s refusal to move a pushchair with a sleeping baby from a bay on a bus used by wheelchair passengers - causing a disabled man to have to leave the vehicle - is at the centre of a test case legal battle in the Court of Appeal.

Three appeal judges are being asked by bus operator First to decide whether wheelchair passengers should have priority over all other passengers to use the space as a matter of law.

The judges heard First Bus Group has a policy of “requesting but not requiring” non-disabled travellers, including those with babies and pushchairs, to vacate the space if it is needed by a wheelchair user.

But a judge at Leeds County Court ruled the policy was discriminatory and in breach of a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.

The ruling was made in the case of wheelchair user Doug Paulley, from Wetherby, the man denied access to the bus after the woman with the sleeping baby refused to move.

Mr Paulley, 36, won £5,500 in damages against First Group, after Recorder Paul Isaacs declared the company should have taken measures to ensure he wasn’t at a disadvantage when he tried to get on the bus. His defence of the original decision is being funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The judge said it had been Parliament’s decision to “give protection to disabled wheelchair users and not to non-disabled mothers with buggies”.

But now Martin Chamberlain QC, for First Group, has appealed against that ruling. He said it was an example of a long-running problem on public transport that had produced conflicting court decisions and bus operators were now seeking legal clarity. First Group had appealed because of their need to know “what they are legally required to do and how”.

Mr Chamberlain said: “(First Group) are much more concerned with the wider effect...on its policies, customers and staff than on the relatively modest (damages) sum awarded in this case.”

The case also affected “the expectation of disabled people to be able to access public transport”, the court heard. Mr Chamberlain said the current situation was not in the interests of disabled people or other passengers.

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