The Mechelen court finds Flemish public transport company De Lijn guilty of structural discrimination against people with disabilities. Four wheelchair users had gone to court after their complaints to De Lijn itself were unsuccessful. They will now each receive compensation of 650 euros. De Lijn is studying the verdict and is considering possible next steps.
Four wheelchair users had sued De Lijn for discrimination. For instance, not every bus allegedly has a ramp, and drivers often do not know how to use it. Some drivers even refuse to pick up wheelchair users because it takes too much time.
According to the four wheelchair users, who also called for establishing a complaints committee at De Lijn, there were 13 incidents between March 2019 and November 2022 where they did not get on the bus or had difficulty getting on.
The judge ruled that there were too many similarities between the different cases to be coincidental and condemned De Lijn for breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and for violations of the Equal Opportunities Decree of 10 July 2008.
“This is an important decision that is very rare,” said lawyer Johan Heymans, who represents the wheelchair users and equal opportunities center Unia. Now, the plaintiffs want to sit around the table with De Lijn again.
“We have done that many times in the past, but hopefully, they will take the complaints seriously this time,” says Heymans. “Otherwise, other victims of discrimination, which there undoubtedly are, will follow our example.” According to Heymans, 12% of De Lijn’s bus users are people with disabilities.
The Equal Opportunities Institute Unit also talks about an important precedent. According to director Els Keytsman, these are not isolated incidents but structural problems in public transport.
On VRT News, she refers, among other things, to the De Lijn app, which wheelchair users can use to see whether a stop is accessible. “That is of no use to them. All stops should be accessible.”
50% of stops accessible by 2030
De Lijn has received the verdict and is now studying it with its lawyers. “We are considering the possible next steps,” the transport company responded. “We stand by our position that we, as De Lijn, do not discriminate and do everything possible to prove the best possible service for everyone.”
According to De Lijn’s website, all its buses – the company also subcontracts rides – are accessible for people with disabilities, and the company has been purchasing only accessible vehicles since 2004.
Pre-booking for an accessible ride on fixed public transport is also not compulsory. To book an accessible flex ride, however, you must mention this when making your initial reservation.
According to the Accessibility Master Plan, the Flemish government wants half (!) of the stops to be accessible by 2030. Flanders supports local governments with a subsidy of 5 000 euros per stop to be made accessible.
The accessible (re)construction of a stop is the responsibility of the road manager in Flanders. For regional roads, this is the Roads and Traffic Agency; for municipal roads, it is the municipalities.