Decision follows supreme court ruling that bus companies must do more for wheelchair users
Wheelchair users are to be given enhanced rights for bus travel, the government has announced, after a landmark supreme court judgment.
The transport minister, Nusrat Ghani, has promised to improve access to spaces on vehicles that are intended to be reserved for disabled passengers.
The decision follows the legal victory last year by the campaigner Doug Paulley in a ruling that said bus companies must do more to ensure wheelchair users are given priority spaces on buses.
The case revolved around Paulley’s attempt to board a FirstGroup bus from Wetherby to Leeds in February 2012. The wheelchair space was being used by a mother with a pushchair and a sleeping child.
The woman rejected the driver’s request to move or fold the pushchair and so the driver told Paulley he could not get on the vehicle. As a result, he missed his train connection at Leeds and was unable to meet his parents for lunch that day.
The government has accepted in principle the recommendations of a review group it established to consider the implications of the judgment.
The group’s report to ministers said that bus drivers “need to play an active role in ensuring that the wheelchair space is made available for passengers in wheelchairs, which includes requiring other passengers to move where necessary.” To do so, it said, drivers may need extra powers.
Ghani said: “Passengers with disabilities must have the same opportunities to travel as other members of society, and it is essential that the services they rely on are accessible and work for them.
“Where people live, shop, go out or park their car should not be determined by their disability. Accessible transport networks are vital if we are to support those with disabilities to live independent lives and fulfil their potential.”
The supreme court unanimously ruled it was not enough for drivers to “simply request” a non-wheelchair user to vacate the space without taking any further steps, and that they must consider whether it was reasonable to “pressurise” reluctant passengers to move.
James Taylor, the head of policy at the disability charity Scope, said: “Accessible spaces on buses exist because of the concerted efforts of disabled campaigners. The consultation the Department for Transport announced today has to be a genuine catalyst for change. In the meantime, bus companies need to be working with disabled people to make their services accessible.”
Keith Richards, the chairman of the disabled persons’ transport advisory Committee, said: “We hope the department will maintain its pace into the implementation phase, to ensure that wheelchair users no longer face these challenges or have to fight for facilities provided for them in law.”