Firstbus appeal: we won rights, but lost the case

At 9.45am Judgment was handed down in my case against First Bus Group. It was immediately appealed to the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately for our many supporters, to whom I am truly grateful, it’s us that are doing the appealing.

The Judgment will be available here shortly, as soon as I can get a final copy. In the meantime, you can see our Application for Permission to Appeal to the Supreme Court.

If you’re a wheelchair using passenger, then you can be happy that the decision is already good enough to improve your rights. If your bus company operates an “ask only” practice to clearing the wheelchair space then they will have to change it, or risk being sued for damages.

Lady Justice Arden has set out what she believes would be reasonable adjustments for bus companies to have to make to ensure access for wheelchair users:

  1. The bus company MUST provide training for bus drivers and devise
    strategies that drivers can adopt to persuade people to clear the wheelchair space. She even suggests drivers could decline to drive on for a short while.
  2. They should run an awareness campaign to educate passengers of the needs of wheelchair users.
  3. They should put up notices designed to make passengers more aware of the
    needs of wheelchair users.
  4. Conduct surveys to find out when people are likely to travel and what
    their needs are so that they can do whatever they can to provide an
    appropriate number of buses for everyone.
  5. Consider changes to bus design, such as more fold-up seats or a space for folded buggies.

This is great….

BUT, there are two reasons why we’ve got to push on to achieve more.

Firstly, as a matter of fact, Firstbus don’t make those adjustments and provided no evidence to suggest they weren’t reasonable adjustments, so my case should have been upheld instead of overturned.

Secondly, we remain committed to the principle that if it’s fine to have someone thrown off the bus for eating a kebab, or committing a general nuisance, then it’s both practical and legal to enforce the principle that disabled people who can only travel in the space designed and designated for wheelchair users have an absolute right to occupy it over non-disabled people.

Firstbus said that they were appealing the decision for ‘clarity’. Ironically this decision creates a mess. We have a Judge in Leeds telling us that Parliament intended that disabled passengers should have priority, and we have appeal Judges in London saying that only rules specifically made by Parliament can allow bus companies to remove their passengers from the wheelchair space.

If Firstbus are serious about seeking clarity then we invite them to agree that the case should proceed to the Supreme Court for the final say.

I am both disappointed and pleased at the same time. I hope to have this finally sorted in the Supreme Court.

I would like to thank those from Transport for All who have supported me so consistently, the many disabled and non-disabled people who have also offered invaluable support, also my excellent, award-winning lawyers Unity Law and world renowned expert counsel from Cloisters chambers.

Appeal Court Judgment

Press release

The battle isn’t over yet.

13 Replies to “Firstbus appeal: we won rights, but lost the case”

  1. TO Wendy Harbon,

    You’ve provided a list of somewhat academic questions. The simple answer to the majority of them is that campaigners over many years managed first to get the Government to introduce the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995, which was revised again in 2005. This was then replaced with the all encompassing Equality Act in 2010.

    This sets a general requirement to ALL service providers to make reasonable adjustments for any person considered to have a protected characteristic. One of those characteristics is disability.

    The Act itself contains a great deal of detail on the whats, whens and hows of spaces on buses, trains and other forms of transport. This prevented the necessity of lengthy legal cases to establish the legal precedents (which is the problem here).

    The reason there is no protection for pushchairs or prams is that, unless the parent has a disability (we’ll keep things simple here), they do not have protected characteristics and thus no protection under the Equality Act. Maybe you should have got all parents together who use buses and campaigned when the Equality Act was being consulted upon – though I’m not sure you’d have gotten very far.

    The simple point is this, and I say this as both a wheelchair user (now) and a walking-stick using father then of a daughter who is now ten. So I am not unsympathetic. If I were intending to use a bus for travel, I would not expect to be able to use a pram, a pushchair which does not fold small (or is so cluttered it would take hours to fold down). I would use a very cheap and basic buggy OR when she was younger, either a ‘baby carrier’ (like you use in cars) or a front-fitted sling/rucksack type device.

    I hope this provides you with sufficient information to go read the Equality Act which will provide you with the answers to the remainder of your questions.

    My question to you:

    Are you implying that disabled people, especially those using wheelchairs or scooters should not be allowed on buses?

    While many people argue that is what DLA (Mobility) or even PIP (Mobility) is for, those arguments ignore the sad reality that these benefits are being rapidly, and unfairly, stripped from people who still qualify for them, and obtaining them in the first place, in the face of documented and proven ‘dirty tricks’ is almost impossible.

    Equally, those of us who do have wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) on Motability do, occasionally, have days where their condition is such that driving is not practical, possible or safe and therefore, unlike many drunk drivers, make the sensible decision not to drive. On many of those days, their partner or carer may not be available either.

    Everybody has THAT choice – but you seem to feel disabled people do not deserve it.

    If you need more information to answer your questions, go to your local Council and ask for details of the nearest disability access group. Go to one of their meetings, and you might reform your opinion.

  2. I hope Doug reads this message. The problem with what happened in the court case was not judges went wrong in their decision making process, the way in which First Group presented their case was in a way that did not present all of the information that was really needed. There was a serious underplay in what Transport for London are or are not doing, which has been the focus of my research. This is important as you cannot have two different sets of rules operating in different parts of the country and I have been able to show that even Transport for London are failing in their duty.

    What I intend to do, if I can and subject to the appeal to the Supreme Court being allowed, is to formally intervene in the case in order to present an academic perspective on the issues at hand. This will cost me £800 to do but if you can inform your counsel that if the appeal is approved I will be contacting them for agreement to apply.

  3. Ref: Questions that need to be asked about Wheelchair Spaces Now and Answered by the likes of DfT.

    Question One; Why are they called a Wheelchair Space?.

    Question Two; Why were and how did Wheelchair Spaces come into being, who was behind this in the UK, or Europe or the World?.

    Question Three; When were the first Wheelchair Spaces introduce on British Buses, and by whom?.

    Question Four; When did it become a Legal requirement for Buses in the UK to have Wheelchair Spaces?, also what is the official specification for a wheelchair space ?.

    Question Five: What is the legal requirement to provide Wheelchair Spaces, also how many per bus or coach or tram, or underground or light railway or train or carriage, is the minimum and maximum requirement?, plus safety requirement too?.

    Question Six; What was provide before Wheelchair Spaces, for the likes of Baby’s Pram’s or Child’s Pushchair’s being carried on Public Transport?.

    Question Seven; What is the legal requirement to provide a space for a of Baby’s Pram’s or Child’s Pushchair’s, on either bus or coach or tram, or underground or light railway or train or carriage, either the minimum and maximum requirement, or any requirement at all?.

    By; GurkhaMum Wendy M.Harbon & GurkhaDad David MC.Hughes plus JKALI (M-GAD), Woof, Woof,

  4. TBH I’m not sure what First Bus motivation is or why they are being so intransigent. Also what are government and local authorities doing to help disabled passengers. I can only post what we;re doing in Fife. I’m a wheelchair user and in 2012 was elected to Fife council. I travel by bus and being on the council is a great opportunity try and get improvements to bus services for all users not just wheelchair passengers. However as it turned out there wee a few councillors who were concerned about the way disabled passengers were treated. An all all party working group was set up to look push for better facilities and treatment of disabled passengers on both bus and rail So we invited Network Rail, Scotrail, Stagecoach, Moffet and WIlliamson (a local bus provider). First bus were not in attendance and have never been to any of our meetings. The group comprises of those firms, 3 councillors one of whom is me and various disabled people and organisations. When the group was set up Stagecoach was well on the way to providing accessible services but there were problems mainly around driving training and rules. On local routes where buses were low liners if there were two pushchairs or buggies on the bus, a wheelchair wasn’t allowed on. We persuaded Stagecoach to change this rule. Drivers were instructed to make pushchairs move. This has worked and now all efforts are made to accommodate both parent and wheelchair user. In the end if there is no way for both to be accommodated its the wheelchair user who would get priority. This is now does working in Fife, drivers do spend time ensuring the wheelchair users gets on the bus. Another issue was with express services that used coaches. To board there is a lift system but one of the front seats on the bus has to be removed. Stagecoach insisted on wheelchair users booking 24 hours in advance. We persuaded them to change this rule so all drivers were trained in removing the seat and operating the lift. There are still a few issues around this but its improving and Stagecoach are working with us to resolve any issues. We had a day when a group of wheelchair users went to the bus garage to try out buses to see what issues and problems there was. Another issue was in surveys we found many disabled people were confident enough to use buses. So now we’re setting days where Stagecoach will provide a bus and driver and anyone now sure about using buses can come along and in a safe environment try buses out and get help to be shown how to board buses. Driver training was also an issue and so stagecoach have worked with the disabled community to improve driver training.

    Thats just a flavour of the work we’re doing. There are still issues but because we have this working group we can address the issues. So I would contend wherever you live to push your local authority to do more to address transport.

  5. And if it had been another wheelchair user in the space? You still would not have had a place. Would you have sued? Not enough wheelchair spaces?
    If I want to get on a bus but it is full, I have to wait for the next one. So does every able-bodied passenger.
    Why do you deserve better treatment than everybody else?
    Bus companies generally know when their busy times are. They cannot know when people with children in buggies or adults with wheelchairs will use the service. That is plain stupid.
    More folding seats and wheelchair spaces mean fewer seats for everybody else for the other 99% of the time. Hardly viable or fair.
    In fact, your whole argument seems to be: I’m special and everybody has to cater for me, regardless of cost or inconvenience to others.
    As it happens, most people will go the extra mile to help disabled folk. Accept that help with good grace, as elderly and other less able folk do daily.

      • Hi Stephen, I agree with you. Most people at least understand that a wheelchair bound person has problems travelling. They can’t use a normal car for obvious reasons, can’t walk a mile or so like others, there options are limited. Now that buses have a Wheelchair space at long last they can travel by bus like the rest of society. There are hundreds more buggies than there are wheelchair users so in good grace a mother must always take pride in being prepared & giving up that space if a wheelchair user needs it from time to time. The other way round the wheelchair user who is in the minority from the amount of buggies on buses, needs them to vacate the wheelchair space at all times. It is a wheelchair space to allow disabled people to travel. Peter Palmer’s comments above defy belief. “More folding seats and wheelchair spaces mean fewer seats for everybody else for the other 99% of the time. Hardly viable or fair.” Is he for real? He wants it all ways. Would he rather have the disability himself 24 hours a day…na I thought not… One of the most ignorant posts I have come across.

      • My point was that the courts are not the place for this sort of pointless nonsense.
        So somebody had to wait for the next bus. Big deal. Get over it. Happens all the time to able-bodied as well as disabled people.
        The lady with the buggy may well have been morally questionable in her thinking but she has rights too. Why should one person’s difficulties outweigh another’s? Maybe she had other issues to deal with.
        The argument was that everything should have been done to accommodate one wheelchair user….regardless of inconvenience or cost to others.
        Sorry, that is not a reasonable argument.
        And what makes sanctimonious commentators like Sophie think that I don’t fully understand?
        All I am suggesting is that proportionality should play some part in the thinking here.
        Life doesn’t stop because of a “disability”. It changes.
        The vast majority of people are happy to make allowances for others less able than themselves (although that can fraught with pitfalls when the PC crowd get going).
        Why sue the bus company? What should the driver have done? Chuck the mother with a baby in a pushchair off the bus because an adult in a wheelchair couldn’t wait for another bus? Then what? They get sued by the ticket carrying mother?
        Sophie, you have no concept of my life experiences. Why so quick to judge harshly? A little intolerant, perhaps?

        • I honestly thought your initial post came across with no empathy for the whole issue. Yes I don’t know your life experiences so apologies for that.
          I and many others simply want a law passed to give wheelchairs priority for their space. This disabled space was fought for by disability campaigners to enable them to use public transport like everyone else. Wheelchair users I presume would be happy for people with pushchairs to have the right to use the space when they do not need it. Their issues of getting about/travelling are much worse than anyone else. There is less choice in the way of travel options. Why should a wheelchair user have to sit and wait as potentially bus after bus passes with a buggy in the space who won’t fold down. It has happened a few times to a friend of mine. Last time when trying to get to work and he could not get on two buses as the space was occupied by pushchair. He managed to get on the third bus. I don’t think that is good enough. We cannot just rely on the good nature of others anymore. I know & appreciate that there are lots of good people out there who would do the right thing.
          You were suggesting why not just wait if the bus is full like everyone else has to. I don’t think you can compare these two scenarios. I think you can if applying to a wheelchair user not being able to board for another wheelchair user, of course using the one vital space they use. That is totally acceptable, they are in the minority so it would not happen too much.
          Best thing in the 21st century is to have two spaces with fold down seats, that anyone can sit in them when not required. One space for Wheelchair and one for a pushchair or even a pram. Yes I know it costs money but I think we need to work towards that.

          • Hi Sophie:

            I agree.

            As a mobility scooter user, I am perfectly happy for anyone to use the wheelchair space when a wheelchair user doesn’t need it.

            I would say that most people will vacate disabled spaces to enable wheelchair users to ride, and that most disabled people will accommodate parents with push chairs as best they can.

            The problem with this week’s ruling is that it will make it more likely that some able-bodied people will refuse to vacate the wheelchair space, and it will make it more likely that some drivers will use it as an excuse not to pick up disabled passengers.

            In practice, it also absolves the bus companies of some of their legal responsibility to ensure that they are providing accessible transport, it waters down hard-fought legal rights earned by disabled people, and it places the burden of inconvenience on a minority group with far fewer options than the majority.

        • Mr. Palmer:

          You mention “proportionality”. What you fail to understand:

          1) Is that buses are required by law to be accessible to people with disabilities.
          2) Most buses have ONE wheelchair space – while able bodied passengers have access to 40+ seats and can stand as well, or ride any number of buses with stairs, which we cannot access.
          3) Wheelchair and scooter users can only use the ONE wheelchair space. We are not allowed to use other spaces.
          4)A large percentage of train stations in the country are not accessible to people in wheelchairs.
          5)It is not uncommon for taxi drivers to ignore disabled passengers and refuse to pick them up.

          This is not about “whining”. It is about the legal right of disabled people to access public goods, services, and transportation – a right enshrined in law. (Read the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equalities Act 2010 for further information.)

          For you to say “accept that help with good grace, as elderly and other less able folk do daily” was completely patronising.

          As a 52 year old man, who has been disabled all my life, I am tired of being patronised and treated like a second class citizen.

          I want the access to goods, services, and transportation that I am legally entitled to and that the rest of society “accepts – with no hassles -daily”.

          • Mike, I completely agree with all you say. It is about giving disabled people access to public goods & services, a life outside of the home like able-bodied people. As we both say there are very limited options for severely disabled people to get out & about. By it’s very nature most wheelchair people are not able to transfer into an ordinary vehicle. An accessible taxi can be the only way to get from A-B, if they cannot board a bus, and the cost limits how many taxi trips you can feasibly have. Also as you say it is not uncomman for a taxi driver to not pick up someone in a wheelchair. I would always advise calling up officially through the main taxi hire companies and then they have to send a taxi. All of those who think it is OTT to get a ruling would not say that (I am sure) if they had a taste of life as a person who has to use a wheelchair and can see what it is like living with a severe disability 24 hours a day. Also some people who have carers, have limited time between carers visits at home so sometimes that special afternoon outing planned has to be abandoned if that vital bus wheelchair space is occupied. To suggest just stand and wait for next one or next again for however long, is not taking all of this into consideration as well. I would like to see two spaces on each bus for Wheelchair & pushchair.

  6. I saw this on the BBC One O’clock News and my wife told me off for screaming at the screen with an increasing level of volume and profanity “But the sign says “Give up this space for a disabled person”” or near offer!

    I had this sort of problem happen when I was on a bus once, the driver said “I’ve got two buggies in the space” I stood up and went and stood by the door, preventing it closing until he reluctantly asked the girls with the kids to either fold up or get off. The girls hadn’t realised a disabled person wanted to get on, so they at once folded the buggies, put them in the luggage rack and we got the wheelchair on. I got a round of applause and most of the passengers said, “It’s strange it takes a disabled person to stand up for another one!” I was walking on crutches thanks to arthritis in my knee.

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