Last week, wheelchair user Doug Paulley won a landmark supreme court case affording wheelchair bus travellers precedence over mothers with prams and pushchairs occupying a priority space. Mr Paulley brought the case after being left stranded at a bus stop in 2012 when a mother with a pushchair declined to vacate the wheelchair appropriate space, despite the bus driver’s request. The court agreed that the driver should have applied greater pressure to require the mother to move and ‘rephrased the polite request as a requirement’.
What does this mean?
The ruling should end the ‘first come, first served’ approach to use of the space suitable for wheelchairs on buses. Drivers will be expected to be more forceful about addressing refusals to move where they consider them unacceptable. They may even refuse to continue the bus journey for several minutes unless the space is surrendered.
Could issues persist?
In short, yes. Campaigners point out that this ruling carries no legal obligation for a bus driver to move a passenger. It places a great deal of responsibility on the driver alone and carries a lack of clarity over how far the driver is expected to go to secure the spot for a wheelchair user. There is also the potential for confrontations and delayed journeys, which could make life more uncomfortable for the wheelchair user. It may even not be considered feasible to ask a mother to move if the bus is already full and there is nowhere for her and her children to sit instead.
Theoretically, the ruling should make bus travel for wheelchair users easier. In practice, however, it may not be the case. While this is a step in the right direction, wheelchair users may still find greater peace of mind in controlling their own transport needs, for example by utilising a wheelchair accessible vehicle.