• The case arose from a passenger’s refusal to give up a wheelchair space. She had parked her pushchair, containing her sleeping child, in the spot and had refused to give up the space in favour of a wheelchair user.

    The bus operator’s policy meant drivers should merely request customers to vacate the wheelchair space but if they refused, the wheelchair user would not be permitted to board. Mr Paulley, the wheelchair user, claimed discrimination by the bus operator on the grounds of his disability. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the judgement urged drivers to do more than simply request non-wheelchair users to give up the space.

    In effect, the judgement means adding additional duties to the bus driver’s job description and providing them with training on how to handle difficult passengers or alternatively employing a person solely for the job of enforcing policy. Whilst the judgment may be of wider application to other forms of public transport, it does beg the question of: is there a need to place more onerous duties on staff for what are likely fairly isolated incidents, for which current policies are adequate? The ruling fell short of requiring bus operators to remove non-wheelchair users who unreasonably refused to vacate a disabled space for a wheelchair user.

    Under the Equality Act 2010, where a provision, criterion or practice of the service provider puts disabled persons generally at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled, the service provider is required to take reasonable steps to avoid the disadvantage. Reasonable steps depend on all circumstances of the case however the bus operator policy only provides that a driver must allow a wheelchair user to board if there is an unoccupied wheelchair space. The space is treated as occupied if passengers and their effects cannot readily and reasonably vacate it by moving elsewhere. The emphasis is on reasonable actions; Lord Neuberger said that ‘an absolute rule that a non-wheelchair user must vacate the space if it was required by a wheelchair user would be unreasonable and enforcement would like lead to confrontation and delay’.

    Essentially each case falls on its own facts. The Supreme Court agreed further reasonable steps should be taken however fell short of requiring an absolute policy, which would in itself be discriminatory.

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