Disability Discrimination on Public Transport

The Supreme Court has ruled that disabled users of public transport are owed a duty by drivers not to discriminate against them and a ‘first-come first-served’ policy with regard to the use of any disabled space is unlawful.

The case in question involved Doug Paulley, a disabled would-be traveller on a FirstGroup bus service in Yorkshire who was unable to board his service due to the refusal of a mother to move her pushchair.

The Supreme Court was clear that it wasn’t enough for the bus driver to politely request that the pushchair user vacate the wheelchair space. In order to fulfil his duty to the disabled user in this situation, Lord Neuberger (president of the Supreme Court) suggested that this should be followed by a refusal to drive on until the pushchair user allows the disabled person to board the bus.

However, Baroness Hale made clear that this ruling does not require bus drivers to physically remove mothers who refuse to follow the rules. Bus drivers must merely make it clear to their passengers, in the event of a dispute, that they operate a policy which prioritises disabled people over pushchair users. Drivers must also take all reasonable measures to persuade pushchair users to obey the rules of the bus.

By failing to have clear rules in place, the bus company, First Group, were in breach of their duty, under the Equality Act 2010, not to discriminate against people based on their disability. This duty extends beyond merely providing space for the disabled and the Supreme Court’s ruling should communicate to all public service providers that they need to have suitable procedures in place in order to ensure that disabled people have equal access to important provisions such as transport.