Photo courtesy of Interrobang Media
On Wednesday 18 January 2017, Mr Doug Paulley partially won his famous case against the bus company FirstGroup, dubbed "wheelchairs vs buggies." The decision was hailed as a victory - but is it really the end of the fight?
The story starts in 2012 when Doug was not allowed to board a bus because the wheelchair designated area was occupied by a pushchair. The mother was asked to move out of the area, but she refused, so Mr Paulley was left at the bus stop and had a severely delayed journey. Later, he took the bus company to court for disability discrimination and won. But the bus company appealed and had the case overturned in 2014. Not giving up, Mr Paulley reappealed against them and, last week, the case was heard at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court judges ruled that bus drivers have to do more than just request people, including parents with pushchairs, to move out of the area. Bus drivers are now required to move people. If someone refuses, and the bus driver thinks that the refusal is unreasonable, they can take further action, such as refusing to move the bus.
Newspapers and broadcasters said Doug had won. Even Doug believed it was a positive decision. But I am curious to see if anything will really change following this ruling. I doubt it - the fight for access is far from over.
This case isn't about wheelchairs vs buggies. It's about disabled people having the right to access affordable, dependable public transport. But, for the record, parents choose to have a child, we did not choose to have a disability. Pushchairs can be folded - but we cannot get out and fold-up! We have to plan ahead on so many things - sometimes I have to book a train a week in advance - so why can't parents do the same? If you must travel in a busy area, just put your baby in shoulder carrier or if is old enough to walk tell them to walk! Buy a light, small, quick and easy to fold pram. The ones I see lately are getting bigger and bigger, so big that I can even fit in there. Actually, maybe that's the key to getting on buses these days...
I'm not out to bash bus drivers and public transport workers. I have empathy for bus drivers - they work under a lot of pressure including traffic and difficult passengers. But, from my personal experience, each bus driver is different and works according to their own rules. With this ruling, it will just be even more confusing.
I have had bus drivers who prefer that I shout at them when I have to get off, others want to know when I am boarding where I have to get off. Sometimes it feels like bus drivers want you to read their minds. Recently, I was with a friend waiting for the bus. As the bus approached I waved and it stopped. My friend got on while I waited for the ramp to lower. Then the driver closed the doors and took off without me! Fortunately, my friend was able to stop the driver. Instead of apologising, the driver shouted at me because it was my fault. Apparently, I did not press the bell that is next to the doors, so he did not understand I needed to board. I couldn't even reach the bell from my powerchair! I started to question if maybe I'd turned invisible...
These are not even the worst incidents. One of the worst in recent times was when I had to let SIX buses pass me before I was allowed on because they were all full of prams. One of them did not even have a child in - it was full of shopping. The driver didn't even try to help me board - perhaps she mistook a bag of salad for a kid?
This is why I do not think that this ruling will solve the problem, because it's not going to be a proper law, it's still left to the driver to decide whether the space needs to be evacuated or not. Given many bus drivers' attitude towards me, and other disabled people I know, I do not have high hopes.
In my view, a specific law must be put in place to make sure drivers are following the ruling. Furthermore, there is still much more work to be done in the fight for better transport access.
On the day of the verdict I was on the Victoria Derbyshire Show to represent charity Muscular Dystrophy UK. The charity has a campaign called End of the Line. Last year, they surveyed hundreds of disabled people and found that journeys on public transport were longer, more expensive and more stressful for disabled people. Some of the results from the survey are shocking, but really show the scale of the problem...
- Two thirds of wheelchair users have been denied access to a bus because of public or driver attitudes
- A third have been left stranded after taxis refused pick-up because of their disability
- A quarter are unable to use their nearest train station and have to use costly taxis to get to other stations
So, here we are and my question still is...will this verdict bring us to the end of the fight? Let's wait and see!