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Bus companies must give wheelchair users priority, human rights group says

22nd Jun 2016

Bus companies must give wheelchair users priority on vehicles instead of using “first come, first served” policies for passengers, an official human rights watchdog has stated.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will call for clearer policies to ensure that those confined to wheelchairs can travel more easily after Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user, tried to board a bus in February 2012 in which the wheelchair space was being used by a mother with a pushchair and a sleeping child. She rejected the driver’s request to move or fold the pushchair, and so Paulley could not board the bus.

Paulley sued the company for discrimination. In December 2014 the court of appeal decided that transport firms were not required to force one traveller to make way for another, but Paulley is challenging that decision at the UK’s highest court.

Paulley stated that “Wheelchair spaces are the only place on the bus that wheelchair users can travel in; if they aren’t available, wheelchair users can’t travel. This is the single biggest barrier experienced by wheelchair users when accessing transport, and most wheelchair users experience this. Bus companies need to have clear policies so that we can have a culture where non-disabled people automatically move to other areas.”

David Isaac, chair of the EHRC, said: “This is not about pushchairs versus wheelchairs but confusing policies from bus companies that cause problems. Bus companies have a duty to allow wheelchair users to travel given how vital this is to disabled people being able to live independent lives.”

Rebecca Hilsenrath, the EHRC chief executive, added that “We know the vast majority of people would move to another seat if a wheelchair user needed the space. We are saying that bus companies must uphold their responsibility and make it very clear to travellers that those spaces are intended for wheelchairs. Priority should mean priority and drivers should be able to have the discussion with passengers based on a clear formal policy.”