Bus Services Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (BSB 03)


1. The Bus Services Bill presents an opportunity to improve the accessibility of public transport for disabled people. Disabled people’s ability to participate in hugely important aspects of life that most of us take for granted, such as work, education and social life, can be dependent on their ability to use public transport. These issues are, therefore, of the utmost importance.

2. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) sets out what human rights mean specifically for disabled people. By ratifying CRPD in 2009, the UK took on binding obligations under international law to ensure that disabled people enjoy those rights in practice. ‘Accessibility’ is a General Principle in the Convention, and Article 9 requires State Parties to take appropriate measures to ensure that disabled people have access to transport on an equal basis with others.

3. A recent court case [1] has highlighted a lack of clarity in the rules regulating the use of spaces on public buses which are provided for wheelchair users ("designated spaces"). On 18 January 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that bus companies must end ‘first come, first served’ policies in relation to these spaces, and do more to give priority to wheelchair users. The Bus Services Bill provides a timely opportunity to provide legal clarity that a wheelchair user has priority use of the designated space.

Wheelchair space priority

4. Public bus services play a vital role in enabling disabled people to live independent lives. Buses are used by many people to get to work, go out, and get to local facilities. It is of great importance, and a matter of human rights, that wheelchair users should be able to use the designated spaces on buses as a priority . The law should make clear that disabled people and bus drivers are entitled to require others to vacate the space, where reasonable.

The Conduct Regulations

5. Under the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations 2000, a bus capable of carrying 22 passengers is required to be fitted with a space that can be used by a person in a wheelchair. The Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers) Regulations 1990 (the Conduct Regulations) set out certain rights and duties for bus drivers, inspectors, conductors and passengers on buses. While these regulations provide that drivers can enlist the help of the police where passengers refuse to stop smoking or behaving in an antisocial manner, they do not contain similarly strong powers to protect the rights of disabled people.

6. The Conduct Regulations provide that the space designated for a wheelchair can be occupied by non-wheelchair users who, or whose effects, cannot readily and reasonably travel elsewhere on the bus. They do anticipate that drivers should be able to make an assessment of whether a passenger would be able to reasonably vacate the space and travel elsewhere on the bus. However, they do not require a bus driver to ask a passenger who is, or whose effects are, unreasonably occupying that space to vacate it upon request from a wheelchair user. Nor do they state that, where a passenger refuses to vacate the space, a bus driver is obliged to do as much as practically possible to enable a wheelchair user to occupy that space.

Paulley vs First Group plc

7. A recent case has highlighted a lack of clarity in the laws regulating this issue. In February 2012, Mr Doug Paulley , a wheelchair user, tried to board a FirstGroup bus from Wetherby to Leeds where he planned to catch a train to Stalybridge to have lunch with his parents. The wheelchair space was being used by a passenger with a pushchair and a sleeping child. FirstGroup did not dispute that there was plenty of space elsewhere on the bus for the passenger to move to with her child and for the pushchair to be folded safely and stored. However, the passenger refused the driver's request to move or fold the pushchair and so the driver told Mr Paulley he could not board the bus. As a result, Mr Paulley had to wait for the next bus to Leeds, which meant that he missed his train to Stalybridge .

8. Supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the case was taken to the Supreme Court. On 18 January 2017 the Court ruled in favour of Mr Paulley . The case centred on whether a 'first come, first served’ policy was discriminatory against wheelchair users and whether bus companies could do more to ensure wheelchair spaces on buses are vacated when a wheelchair user enters the bus. The Court suggested that the current Conduct Regulations should be reconsidered in order to provide much needed clarity for bus companies and their customers. Specifically, Lord Sumption said:

"The difficulty with this case is that the Conduct Regulations deal with the obligations of passengers at paras 5 and 6, without imposing any obligation on them to vacate the wheelchair space where it is required by a wheelchair user...the ideal solution, if there is one, would be to change the law so as to create an obligation on the part of the non-wheelchair user, enforceable in the same way as the rule against anti-social behaviour , to move unless the driver reasonably considers that they have a sufficient reason not to do so."

Clarifying the law

9. The Commission believes that the Conduct Regulations should be amended in three ways:

· Firstly, non-wheelchair users should be required to vacate the wheelchair space, where reasonable.

· Secondly, bus companies should be required to make it clear to passengers that they must vacate the wheelchair space, where reasonable.

· Thirdly, in the face of an unreasonable refusal by a non-wheelchair user to vacate the space, drivers should be required to use reasonable endeavours to enable a wheelchair user to occupy the designated space.

10. Increased legal certainty about what is required would avoid circumstances such as those encountered by Mr Paulley. Drivers should be supported by a clear formal policy which makes clear that wheelchair users have priority in using the space when they ask passengers to move from wheelchair spaces.

Accessibility as a licensing condition

11. The Bus Services Bill presents a further opportunity to strengthen the accessibility of buses by requiring bus operators to establish and publish policies setting out how they will promote the rights of disabled people. This would mirror the more inclusive system in the rail sector, where train and station operators must produce a Disabled People's Protection Policy (DPPP) showing the arrangements in place to allow disabled people to use their services. DPPPs are required as a condition of operators' licences, and must be approved by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

12. Similar statutory enforcement in the bus sector would ensure that disabled people are consistently supported to access public transport.

About the Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006. It operates independently to encourage equality and diversity, eliminate unlawful discrimination, and protect and promote human rights. It contributes to making and keeping Britain a fair society in which everyone, regardless of background, has an equal opportunity to fulfil their potential. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. It encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and is accredited by the UN as an ‘A status’ National Human Rights Institution. Find out more about the Commission’s work at: www.equalityhumanrights.com

March 2017

[1] FirstGroup Plc (Respondent) v Paulley (Appellant) UKSC 2015/0025


Prepared 15th March 2017