What a muddle we seem to have with the First Bus Company having been found guilty of discrimination when a wheelchair user (36-year old Mr Doug Paulley) was unable to board one of their buses because the single space reserved on the bus for a disabled wheelchair passenger was occupied by a lady with a buggy who refused to move because her baby was sleeping.
Now, I can understand Mr Paulley being upset because he could not board the bus. had to wait for a later one and, therefore, missed a train connection I can also understand the lady not wishing to wake her sleeping child although, technically it seems she was occupying a space specifically reserved for a disabled passenger so one might feel she was in the wrong here. However, why the bus company should be found guilty of discrimination baffles me. Indeed, why the bus company should be in the dock at all baffles me. Should the driver have stopped the bus, ‘phoned his bosses and sought instruction, thus delaying everyone? Should the company have told him to eject the lady and her pram, using force if necessary?
Now First Bus is appealing the decision of the County Court and, guess what, the appeal will be heard in the Appeal Court and is expected to last three days! I assumed Mr Paulley was on legal aid but research shows that his costs are being funded by the Equality & Human Rights Commission which still means us the taxpayer. No doubt the bus company is having to stump up its costs from its own resources which means its fare payers. The net result, regardless of the outcome, is that the public will bear the cost of this unseemly dispute either through the legal aid bill that comes out of our taxes or because the bus company has to foot a hefty lawyers’ bill which will come out of their passengers’ fares. Only the lawyers win here.
Where has common sense gone in this fruitless pursuit of equality? What would have happened if the bus had already taken on board another wheelchair user who was lawfully occupying the single disabled passenger’s spot? Would Mr Paulley still have won his discrimination case then? Is this about creating a larger space in every bus for disabled users? If so, isn’t it for legislators and not judges to make this decision and to reflect on the cost of such a requirement?
I rather think that, in 99% of incidents like this, common sense would have prevailed. The wheelchair user, seeing a sleeping baby in the buggy might well have said “don’t worry lady; I will catch the next one”. Equally, the lady might have picked up her baby, squashed him onto a seat and moved the buggy for the wheelchair if there was space. We seem to have had a collision of two obdurate characters here; a wheelchair user demanding the full extent of his rights and a mother unwilling to disturb her baby’s sleep. The victim, caught in the middle, is the poor old bus company and its driver stuck between a rock and a hard place and having to pay heftily for the privilege.
A little Googling reveals an interesting side to Mr Doug Paulley. It seems he is a regular Tweeter and has his own web site in which he describes himself as a “web designer, environmentalist, animal rights activist and a disability activist” which may explain why common sense and good manners never featured in this case. I suppose he will be out with the hunt saboteurs next and taking some farmer to court for not providing disabled access across his farmland!