Improving public transport for disabled people

Paulley v First Group PLC

A disabled man was unable to board a bus because a passenger with a pushchair refused to vacate the wheelchair space. The man successfully brought a claim for discrimination against the bus company. The company appealed twice in the Supreme Court, which is where our involvement began.

Legal issue

Did the bus company fail to make a reasonable adjustment?


A wheelchair user tried to board a bus, but the driver asked him to wait, as the wheelchair space was currently taken by a mother with her sleeping child in a pushchair.

When the driver asked the woman to leave the space she refused, meaning the wheelchair user was unable to board the bus and missed a vital rail connection.

Why we were involved

Under the Equality Act there is a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments where a disabled person is put at a disadvantage in comparison to a non-disabled person as a result of a rule or policy.

There are around 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK and they face a number of additional challenges in simply getting around. This case was an opportunity for us to further our plans to improve transport for disabled people.

We wanted to make sure that the original judgment, which recognised the need to have policies that allow disabled people to reliably get around on public transport, wasn’t overturned. We also wanted to draw attention to the challenges disabled people encounter when using public transport.

What we did

We paid the man’s legal costs, allowing him to defend the appeal and preserve the earlier ruling.

What happened

The court agreed that wheelchair users should have priority access to wheelchair spaces. Bus companies should have clear policies in place and drivers should receive training in how to remove the barriers facing disabled people, including being more insistent with other passengers.

However, the judgment rejected the idea that wheelchair users have absolute right to the wheelchair space and the judges were not convinced that other passengers had a statutory duty to move.

Who will benefit and how

Not being able to easily and reliably travel is one of many barriers that can prevent disabled people taking part in all aspects of life. It makes it harder to work, keep medical appointments and maintain a social life. The case clarifies that there is an onus on bus companies to take steps to improve access to public transport and to make sure their drivers are equipped to challenge inconsiderate behaviour by other passengers. We hope that this case will contribute towards greater equality in the provision of public transport.

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