Bus Services Bill [HL]

Written Evidence submitted by Catherine Casserley and Chris Fry, legal advisers to My Paulley (BSB 14)

NC 7 (Priority wheelchair spaces)

1. This briefing addresses the background to, and reasons for, the amendment on priority wheelchair spaces.


2. As stated by Lady Hale in the Supreme Court case of Paulley v First Group: Difficulties with transport are one of the two most common barriers to work for people with impairments. Of the 12m disabled people in the United Kingdom, one tenth, that is 1.2m people, are wheelchair users and more than a quarter of these are under the age of 60 (Papworth Trust, Disability in the United Kingdom 2014, Facts and figures). It scarcely needs stating that they face particular difficulties in getting about and thus playing as full a part as they can in the life of the community. Without the ability to travel they risk becoming socially isolated and losing confidence in themselves. But their journeys need even greater planning than do those of people who are not wheelchair users: will I be able to get to the bus stop, will I be able to get on the bus, when will the bus go, will I be able to get from the bus to the train station, will I be able to get on the train, when will the train go, will I be able to get to my destination at the other end?

3. Following tireless campaigning by disabled people, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 introduced a power for the Secretary of State to produce regulations to require buses and coaches to be designed with certain accessibility features.

4. The Public Service Vehicle Regulations 2000 ("the PSVR") require a regulated public service vehicle designed for 22 or more people – generally buses and coaches – to be fitted with not less than one wheelchair space.

5. 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; they state that a wheelchair user must be permitted to board a bus if there is an "unoccupied wheelchair space".

6. A space is defined as being occupied if there is a wheelchair user in that space or passengers or their effects are in that space and they or their effects cannot readily and reasonably vacate it by moving to another part of the vehicle

The Paulley case

7. Mr Paulley’s case was typical of the experience of many wheelchair users who attempt to board buses (see for example the recent cases on the Transport for All website - Kirsty Shepherd, who was refused access to an Arriva bus in Yorkshire and suffered verbal abuse from her fellow passengers; and Nicki Price from Chelmsford who was denied access to a bus when she was travelling to collect her children from school). Mr Paulley attempted to board a bus but was told he could not as the woman whose pushchair was occupying the wheelchair space refused to move.

8. Mr Paulley won his case against FirstGroup PLC, the bus operator, in the county court, but Firstgroup, having appointed a completely new legal team, appealed to the Court of Appeal. At the Court of Appeal, they were successful in convincing the court that they had done enough. On Mr Paulley’s appeal to the Supreme Court, the court held that, though Firstgroup’s policy did not go far enough, and the driver should have done more to assist in securing the space for Mr Paulley, FirstGroup were not under an obligation to have a priority policy for wheelchair users which required someone unreasonably refusing to vacate the wheelchair space to be required to leave the bus.

9. This means that a "priority" policy for wheelchair users lacks the "teeth" of enforcement. This is despite the fact that, under the Conduct Regulations, someone who is eating smelly food, or otherwise causing a nuisance, and who refuses to stop, can be asked to leave the vehicle.

The amendment

10. The amendment addresses the issue of enforceable priority for wheelchair users by enabling the Secretary of State to make regulations so that priority for wheelchair users means just that: if a person unreasonably refuses to vacate the space they may be required to leave the vehicle.

11. They would only be required to vacate the space it if was reasonable – if for example they had a disability, such as a having a guide dog, or a walking frame, and thereby required the wheelchair space, they would not be unreasonably refusing to vacate the space.

12. The amendment also provides as a last resort ("if necessary") a power to require an individual who unreasonably refuses to leave the space to leave the vehicle. There are other options which could be considered before such action is undertaken – for example, stopping the bus (as is done with those who do not make payment).

March 2017


Prepared 15th March 2017