A wheelchair user has won a Supreme Court ruling that bus drivers must do more to prioritise space for disabled passengers.
Mr Paulley took his case to the Supreme Court after being unable to board a bus because a woman with a baby, sleeping in a pushchair, refused to vacate the spot designated for wheelchair users. She claimed her pushchair did not fold, prompting Mr Paulley to sue the bus company for failing to make "reasonable adjustments" for wheelchair users, as required by the 2010 Equality Act.
BBC News reports:
Wheelchair user Doug Paulley brought his case after he was refused entry to a FirstGroup bus in 2012, when a mother with a pushchair refused to move. First Bus said the ruling meant drivers would not have to remove customers from its vehicles, while Mr Paulley said the ruling would make "a major difference".
What this really means in practice has yet to become clear but the courts have decreed it's not enough for drivers to simply ask non-wheelchair users to move from wheelchair spaces – yet at the same time, drivers don't have a legal duty to actually remove passengers from the bus who refuse to vacate the designated space.
It's been reported that disability campaign groups have hailed the ruling a victory but, as a buggy-pushing bus-riding mum, I don't quite see it like that.
Don't get me wrong; had I been asked to vacate a space designated for a wheelchair user on a bus, I'd have done so without thinking twice. I've done it numerous times, and that includes dragging two children under two years old (and a knackered old double buggy that genuinely didn't fold) off a bus to make way for a wheelchair user, only to wait an hour in the freezing cold until the next one turned up. I did it happily and can't imagine anyone having a problem with making space for a disabled passenger, even if that means getting off the bus.
I don't want a medal and I don't have a sob story about how inconvenient it was because I'm sure it's not nearly as inconvenient as it must be to travel by bus if you're a wheelchair user only to find that someone thinks their sleeping baby's comfort should come before your physical needs.
Because that's the difference here. A wheelchair user needs that space. A baby and its parent does not, no matter how much their convenience is compromised by having to move or disembark. Babies and buggies, unlike disabilities and wheelchairs, are lifestyle choices, after all.
But. I don't see it as a victory because I don't think it's ever a good thing to rank the concerns of one group in society against those of another. No-one wins at that game, in the end.
It should never be compared with being disabled, but travelling by public transport with babies and small children can be astonishingly difficult. The day a bus driver drove off and left me by the side of the road because I couldn't fold my buggy fast enough at his insistence (because his bus was packed) – with a total stranger holding my newborn and my toddler pinned to the wall to stop him darting into the road – played no small part in my decision to move out of London.
Which is why I think today's landmark ruling might create more problems than it solves, at least initially. Where does it leave parents? Will you pay twice if you disembark? And what about when a wheelchair user can't access the bus because there's already a wheelchair on board? And how exactly is a bus driver supposed to persuade someone to move from a wheelchair space? That's a lot of pressure for someone whose focus should be safely driving a vehicle. I hate the language used by the court – namely, that said person could be "shamed" into moving by the driver stopping the bus until they agree to move. Shame surely shouldn't come into this.
I'm glad Mr Paulley won his case and thankful that it's bringing this issue to the fore but I'd rather public transport in the 21st century was fit to handle both babies and disabled passengers. There should be room for both.
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