LENGTHY legal argument has held up a landmark court case brought by a group of disabled people against a bus company they say has discriminated against them.
Arriva North-East is being sued by people who say they have experienced discrimination, such as being denied access to buses when wheelchair spaces were occupied by other passengers, for example those with pushchairs.
The claimants are seeking £18,000 in compensation from Arriva, in a case which is the first of its kind against a transport company and could have an impact on how equality laws are implemented in the future.
Proceedings were delayed on Tuesday (December 4), when lawyers for Arriva complained that the claimant’s case was more extensive than they had prepared for.
Campaigners are challenging Arriva’s ‘first come, first served’ policy that means drivers do not have to force passengers occupying wheelchair space to move if a wheelchair user wants to board.
The court has heard evidence from one of the campaigners, Jane Elliot, who endured a “humiliating experience” when she tried to board an Arriva bus in July last year.
The court was told she was initially refused by the driver because of the first come, first served policy.
Mrs Elliot queried the policy with the driver, who asked the passenger who was occupying the wheelchair space with a push chair to move it, eventually allowing Mrs Elliot to board the bus, following what she described as a stressful confrontation.
She told the court: “The problem with the driver was his attitude.
“He treated me like I was a total waste of time. When I asked him to put the ramp down, he said: 'I haven't got time for this. I'm late already'.”
Arriva told the court it acts within the law, giving drivers appropriate training The claimants, who are represented by disability discrimination specialists Unity Law, say Arriva’s policy puts the claimants at a disadvantage compared with non-wheelchair users.
The civil case, which is being heard at the county court in Middlesbrough, is due to last for two weeks, but a judgement is not expected until next year, following the resolution of legal arguments.
As well as claiming compensation, the claimants hope the judge presiding over the case, Judge Peter Bowers, will make recommendations affecting the wider transport industry.
CORRECTION: An article about the court case in The Northern Echo on Monday (December 3) incorrectly stated that Arriva was being sued by Darlington Association on Disability (Dad).
We have been asked to point out that it is not the charity that it taking the action, but individuals themselves, with the support of Dad. We apologise for the error and any confusion it may have caused.