Wheelchair user Julia Haraksin won a three year legal battle against Murrays Australia on Thursday, with the Federal Court ruling the bus company breached the Disability Standards and directly discriminated against Ms Haraksin.
Ms Haraksin tried to book a seat on a coach to travel from Sydney to Canberra in August 2009, but the company refused to accept her booking because none of the vehicles in its fleet were wheelchair accessible.
Instead, Ms Haraksin's husband took time off from work to drive her to Canberra, where she delivered a paper at a conference.
Justice Nicholas found Murrays, which had a fleet of 154 vehicles, were in breach of the Disability Standards, which came into effect in 2002. The standards required all new public transport vehicles to be wheelchair accessible and for 25 per cent of transport operator's existing fleet to be accessible by 2007.
Ms Haraksin was represented by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which said the decision "puts all public transport operators in Australia on notice".
"Public transport operators cannot afford to ignore the Disability Standards. They have a legal obligation to comply, and people with disability who are sick of being treated like second class citizens will hold them to account," PIAC Principal Solicitor, Alexis Goodstone said.
"This decision reinforces a very basic principle: everyone has a right to equal access to public transport. People with disability should not have to go to court in order to catch a bus."
In its defence, Murrays noted that by 2010 they did have wheelchair-accessible vehicles, but Justice Nicholas noted "there is no evidence to indicate why, given such vehicles could be acquired and deployed … by 2010, they could not have been acquired or deployed in August 2009 or earlier."
Murray told The Canberra Times last year that the entire fleet on the Canberra-Sydney service is now wheelchair accessible.