So legislation from 20 years ago has crept up with coach operators, manufacturers and clients totally unaware of the potential impact it may have.
The tidal wave of horror this is now causing could change the landscape of all coach companies in the land.
The Disability Act 2000, and the Equality Act 2010, have put coach operators, schools and local authorities on a sticky wicket.
In around April 2019, small snippets of information started coming out that PSVAR, correct me if I’m wrong but i think thats Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (and breathe!), would change the way we can run some services from January 2020.
In layman’s terms it was thought that where a passenger pays a separate fare to travel on a coach, the coach would have to be accessible to all users, including those less-able bodied such as wheelchair users. Initially as an industry we thought that would maybe effect rail replacement services, express services etc, those that are used by the general public. We would have to buy a few wheelchair accessible coaches to comply, job done.
But no, this has since seemingly also encompassed more mainstream services, such as;
* college and school fares where the child pays a fare each time he/she travels, even if it’s a token gesture and the bulk of the payment is made by the college
* school/college routes where the parent pays in advance to the school for a pass, be it a private school, academy or faith school
* local authorities when a concessionary payment is made, i.e. a 6th former or pupil out of catchment who can buy a pass to access the service
So basically this will, if not amended, massively affect all home-to-school services, every coach/bus (over 22 seats) will have to be accessible to a wheelchair user, even if there isn’t a need.
This is a prime example of a law, set in 2000 that now does not reflect the climate we live and operate in.
In 2000 most services were paid wholly by the LEA, so it wouldn’t have impacted the coach services to schools, now, the Academies/Schools/Colleges pay or part-pay, bringing the service “in scope”.
In practice, wheelchair users are needs assessed by schools and LEA’s and an appropriate service provided, 99% of the time that will be a private taxi to and from their front door. What the law wants is those user’s to access the mainstream bus and coach service, so as not to segregate a wheelchair user, but the actual result will probably be either duplication and increased costs or a worse service, when the Local Authorities simply cannot afford it.
Will a student in a wheelchair want to get from their house to the nearest bus stop and get on a busy coach packed full of their peers each day, as opposed to being picked up from their door, and dropped at the front door at school each day in a much more relaxed manner?!
I’ve a feeling we will be forced to comply with accessible vehicles, whilst the wheelchair user will still demand a private service, defeating the object of the legislation and causing a huge headache in the meantime.
In Teesside alone, a quick count, gives the need for around 90 accessible coaches/buses to be found to comply, and the stock for sale available is either end of life service buses, or second life National Express coaches.
Just to reiterate this law will impact even if there’s no need, so for example a school with 1000 students, that is served by 10 coaches each day, that has no wheelchair users in school will be forced to comply, just in case…ludicrous.
At a time when we as an industry are striving to improve standards, comply with clean air zone with new vehicles, we are now being forced to basically downgrade our fleet’s if we are to comply.
This countries gone mad, but we’ll fight on regardless with a smile 😉