A ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal which sees wheelchair users lose priority over pushchairs.
The decision comes after an appeal made by First Bus Company following a Leeds County Court ruling had previously decided that a disabled man who had claimed the policy concerning designated seating areas for wheelchair users was discriminatory.
First Bus was successful in its appeal against the judgement in a legal challenge which was first brought forward in 2012.
Doug Paulley from Wetherby, West Yorkshire was denied access when he attempted to board a bus where a woman with a pushchair, who refused to move, already occupied the wheelchair area.
Mr Paulley initially won his case in September 2013 and was awarded damages of £5,500 after the Leeds County Court ruled that the company had acted in a discriminatory way against legislation laid out in the Equality Act 2010 by failing to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate him.
Mr Paulley’s case garnered widespread support from disability groups and campaigner Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who welcomed the judgement by Leeds County Court. First Bus was also given six months to change its policy which stated: “Wheelchair users have priority use of the wheelchair space… The driver has no power to compel passengers to move in this way and is reliant upon the goodwill of the passengers concerned … If a fellow passenger refuses to move [the wheelchair user] will need to wait for the next bus.”
The policy is made on a “request rather than required” basis, with no obligation to ensure spaces are kept for wheelchair users exclusively.
First Bus began an appeal in November 2014 and the Court of Appeal overruled the decision on the grounds that the company’s policy did comply with equality legislation, and in Mr Paulley’s case, the occupation of the space by a pushchair did also qualify for protection under the Equality Act.
Lord Justice Lewison of the Court of Appeal remarked: “The judge seems to me to have thought that the needs of wheelchair users trumped all other considerations.”
This has been received with frustration and anger by many disabled people who rely heavily on public transport. The ruling has been seen as a step back in equal rights for those affected by disabilities impacting on their mobility. While recognising this ruling would prompt disappointment, the recommendations by the court would be to seek changes in the law to specifically reflect disability needs.