Trade bodies welcome PSVAR review

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The RHA notes that even if operators provide accessible vehicles, such as this Mercedes-Benz Tourismo belonging to Henshaw’s, the roadside infrastructure may not always support them. RICHARD SHARMAN

Trade bodies including the RHA and CPT have welcomed the Government’s call to hear the industry’s views on coach passenger accessibility regulations as part of the Department for Transport’s review of the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 (PSVAR).

Whilst coach operators continue to support efforts to make passenger journeys inclusive, there remains widespread concerns that the underlying rationale driving the PSVAR review is flawed, says the RHA, noting that operators have long argued that the regulations overlook the roadside infrastructure improvements needed to make coach and bus travel fully accessible. Instead, the trade organisation says, the regulations are focused on vehicle design which fails to take into account other factors needed to make the journey inclusive, whilst a lack of physical infrastructure at non-scheduled pick up spots like rural roads or remote locations means that coach travel can’t always be fully inclusive even when operators lay on accessible vehicles.

The RHA is advocating that the emphasis is shifted from the vehicle to the customer and their journey, and calling for regulations to be changed so that operators have a legal responsibility to offer appropriately accessible vehicles when they are needed, rather than it being mandated that all coaches are 100% accessible. It will be consulting with members and representing their views in the call for evidence in due course, and encourages all coach operators to respond to the call for evidence, which is open until 4 September.

The CPT also welcomed the call for evidence. Responding to the news, CPT’s Operations Director Keith McNally said: “Now is the ideal time to consider what happens when the medium-term exemptions for PSVAR end in 2026. As the trusted voice of the coach sector, we are pleased to be responding to the DfT’s call for evidence on behalf of our members.

“The key principles that our Coach Commission has agreed are:

  • All ‘open-door’ services would be required to comply – in effect, the situation as it is now, were the exemptions not in place;
  • All ‘closed-door’ regular services (school and other services where the passengers are known in advance) required to comply where a passenger has an accessibility need (i.e. ‘on demand’);
  • The payment of ‘separate fares’ shouldn’t be a factor in determining whether a service is ‘in scope’ or not.

“However, the call for evidence goes to the very heart of the Regulations and covers bus as well as coach. CPT looks forward to responding to DfT’s call and working through the detailed questions with members.”

Side lifts can take many forms, but all require a significant amount of space to deploy. JONATHAN WELCH

Responses sought

In his foreword to the call for evidence, Minister for Roads and Local Transport Richard Holden said: “It is vital that government thinking is informed by a depth of data, experiences, and perspectives. I am seeking responses to this call for evidence from a diverse cross-section of stakeholders across the country, including disabled people, the public, manufacturers, operators, and service commissioners. This is a significant opportunity to inform the government’s understanding of the accessibility of our public service vehicles, and your insight is crucial. I strongly encourage you to respond.”

The Government committed to review key accessibility regulations as part of its 2021 National Bus Strategy. The call for evidence will run for a period of 12 weeks and is open to everyone. The Government’s response will be published by the end of 2023 and will set out the next steps for the PSVAR.

Through the review, the Government aims to gather evidence that will allow it to understand the efficacy of the PSVAR; understand how the regulations might evolve to better meet the changing needs of disabled people; identify where further policy development might be needed; and understand the perspectives of disabled people, commissioners of services, manufacturers, operators and the public on the PSVAR, and to investigate how passenger need has changed since the PSVAR came into force in 2000.

The review will focus on exploring the range of vehicles that PSVAR applies to, assessing the effectiveness of the PSVAR’s current accessibility requirements, understanding whether the current approach to regulating works, and compliance levels, including inspection and enforcement.

The relationship between the future of the PSVAR and the transition to zero emissions will also be looked at, as will factors that are related to the PSVAR, but not regulated by it, such as the accessibility of roadside infrastructure and the conduct of drivers and passengers.