The Department for Transport (DfT) is poised to start a ‘call for evidence’ for mandatory zero-emission coaches, and will consider this in parallel with a review of PSVAR regulations, so that operators don’t have to invest twice.
That is the commitment announced by Transport Minister Baroness Vere at the UK Coach Association’s (UKCOA) Conference, hosted at Farnborough International by ITT Hub, on Tuesday (8 March).
It marks a policy shift for the DfT, which had previously said that the matters – PSVAR and zero-emission coach regulation – would be considered separately.
The Minister also announced medium-term PSVAR exemptions that will “last probably until middle of 2026”.
Addressing the audience of almost 100 operators she said: “We will review the PSVAR regulations by the end of 2023. Do not expect that they will suddenly disappear.
“But what we do want to make sure is that they are working properly and heading us in the right direction, working in partnership with the industry, so that we can fully understand what the challenges are.
“We’ve got to bridge the gap between the current short-term PSVAR exemptions and are committed to announcing medium-term exemptions.
“We’ll probably do that within the next couple of months. So in the spring applications will be able to be made for medium-term exemptions and we expect those to last, probably, until the middle of 2026.
“That’ll give a little bit of a breathing space whilst we think about making sure that PSVAR works for everybody. And we remain committed to improving the accessibility and coach sector, but we recognise that there’s an opportunity for us to work together.”
Making the keynote speech at the Conference she paid tribute to the coach sector during the “very, very challenging time.”
She added: “As we emerge from the pandemic, I hope the sector will grasp every opportunity to help the economy to rebuild, particularly as tourism springs back to life.
“I think there’s a huge opportunity to promote coaches as a clean, sustainable, comfortable and accessible way of getting around.”
It is now 20 yeas since the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) were created, initially implemented for scheduled local buses and later timetabled inter-urban/city coaches. As written, the PSVAR legislation was not intended to cover ‘closed door’ operation of coaches, such as private hire, holidays, rail replacement and home-to-school transport.
However, faced with legal challenges, a new interpretation of PSVAR by the government prior to the pandemic, brought rail replacement and home-to-school into scope. This created an issue of lack of PSVAR-compliant coaches in the market, coupled with the high cost of retro-fit for older coaches for low-value work (such as home-to-school).
Ultimately, through its various funding mechanisms for the railway and education authorities, this transport is paid for by central government.
As a result, short-term exemptions have been made to enable services to continue, otherwise operators would be forced to withdraw them.
The minister also announced that a ‘call for evidence’ for transitioning to zero-emission coaches is coming soon. Story here
Post-story update 26 March 2022: The call for evidence has been announced here