News that the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) has issued advice to the government on changes to how PSVAR applies to coaches will come a surprise to many.
DPTAC wants a pathway to universal PSVAR compliance on coaches used ‘for hire’, which realistically is all of them. That has been raised before. In 2020, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) – which represents train operating companies – called for the same in a bid to force coach operators to solve a rail industry problem.
RDG’s ask was dismissed by rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris. It continues to make efforts to find a long-term solution to PSVAR on rail replacement. It is also required to provide Mr Heaton-Harris with a quarterly update. He has been strong in his criticism of the rail industry for not having dealt with the matter, but – tellingly – he accepts that a resolution is not something that it can deliver on its own.
Mr Heaton-Harris is not responsible for coaches or buses, but his words demonstrate that PSVAR is on the government’s radar. To be clear, DPTAC’s call for universal compliance in coaches does not seek a rapid transition. In any case, Westminster is not bound to accept its advice. DPTAC by definition holds an advisory position. Ministers are free to ignore it.
Whether they will is not yet clear. DPTAC expects to receive “a fair hearing” on its proposals, but it notes the financial reality of an industry that has been left largely without work for almost a year.
One would hope that the government recognises that position too, and places a realistic scale on any transition, should it deem one necessary. But DPTAC is influential. It is imperative that the coach industry makes its voice heard in any coming debate on PSVAR.
Constructive engagement with politicians has delivered for the sector in Northern Ireland and in Scotland. In the former, a second round of bespoke support has been proposed. In the latter, the initial sum of money allocated to helping coach operators was doubled after straightforward facts were presented.
The coach industry has seen its sphere of trade bodies’ representation grow since December, in RHA Coaches and the UK Coach Operators Association. Those bodies each have strengths and they are already singing a similar tune: Required are changes to categorisation for the purposes of grants, and a nationwide support package.
With PSVAR still hovering on an already cloudy horizon, now exists an opportunity for those groups to pool their considerable resources and skillsets in making the industry’s case. Work in Northern Ireland and Scotland shows that results can be had if a united front is presented. Those achievements must now be leveraged to spread some good news elsewhere.