Temporary service variation mechanism extended into 2022

Temporary bus service variation mechanism extended to 31 March 2022

Any registered bus service operating under the temporary variation mechanism that was introduced early in the COVID-19 pandemic can now do so until 31 March 2022, updated guidance from the Traffic Commissioners (TCs) has detailed. 

The further extension applies in England, Scotland and Wales. It means that all such temporarily varied services must return to their March 2020 position by 1 April 2022 and represents a further three-month extension of the end date from 31 December. 

In explaining the further extension of the reversion date, the TCs’ guidance states that it has been agreed “given the continuing challenges” and after consultation with operators’ representatives and local authorities (LAs).

It adds: “This date gives operators at least 84 days’ notice for the reversion of services to the pre-March 2020 position, allowing opportunity to lodge any permanent changes that they wish to make.” 

However, in a strong hint that the development will be the final postponement of the temporary service variation mechanism’s conclusion, no applications to it will be accepted in England and Wales beyond 31 December, and in Scotland beyond 31 January. 

Also addressed in the updated document are long-distance coach services with registered sections. Recognised is how operators of those “require a higher level of flexibility.” The TCs note that “it may not be possible for coach operators to revert to their pre-pandemic services by 2022 and that there may be a need for a gradual move towards that position throughout the first half of 2022.” 

As a result, where certainty of demand on those services cannot be determined, “coach operators are encouraged to work with LAs to agree a shorter consultation period.” Once that is decided, the relevant application can be submitted for a short notice dispensation “on the basis that the operator could not have reasonably foreseen the circumstances to make an earlier variation or registration.” 

The TC will consider each case on its merit, but “will endeavour to assist coach operators wherever possible in agreeing notice periods shorter than those set out in legislation,” the document concludes.