Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Policy of Bus Operator to not require non disabled travelers to vacate space for wheelchair users - a discriminatory practice

Does the policy of Bus Service provider not requiring non-disabled passengers including mothers with pushchairs/ prams, to vacate space for wheelchair users be considered discrimination under UK's  Equality Act 2010 ?

After a Judge of Leeds County court ruled that the policy to not provide mandatory priority space to wheelchair users vis a vis other passengers was discriminatory under the Act, the respondent "First Bus Group" the bus company which  runs services in and around Plymouth have decided to place issue before a Three Judge Appeal Bench  seeking clarity on it as a matter of law.  The County Judge said it had been the UK's parliament’s decision to give protection to disabled wheelchair users and not to non-disabled mothers with buggies.

Here is the news from The Guardian, UK.

Appeal court weighs legal duty of transport operators to enforce wheelchair users’ priority over other passengers

Press Association

The Guardian, Tuesday 11 November 2014 15.25 GMT

A judge ruled First Group had been discriminatory by not requiring other passengers to vacate the space reserved for disabled travellers. 

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 a bus operator to decide whether wheelchair passengers should have priority over all other passengers to use the space as a matter of law.

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

But a judge at Leeds county court ruled that 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 Doug Paulley, a wheelchair user from Wetherby, West Yorkshire, who was denied access to the bus after the woman with the sleeping baby refused to move.

Paulley, 36, won £5,500 in damages against First Group, after the judge, Recorder Paul Isaacs, declared that the company should have taken measures to ensure he was not at a disadvantage when he tried to get on the bus.

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

On Tuesday Martin Chamberlain QC, for First Group, 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”, he said.

“It will be obvious that [First Group] are much more concerned with the wider effect of Mr Recorder Isaac’s judgment on its policies, customers and staff than on the relatively modest [damages] sum awarded in this case,” Chamberlain said. The case also affected “the expectation of disabled people to be able to access public transport”.

Chamberlain told the appeal judges, Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice Lewison and Lord Justice Underhill: “The problem with the adjustment required by the recorder in this case is that it requires a rigid policy of priority for wheelchair users over all other passengers, irrespective of their legitimate need to use the same space.”

The requirement “unnecessarily encourages confrontation and is unenforceable”, he said, and it was not in the interests of disabled people or passengers in general.

Paulley’s defence of the Isaacs decision is being funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Source: The Guardian 

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