PSVAR: Government failures leave no hope of a solution

In a change from the previous norm, PSVAR in the coach industry now bubbles away relatively quietly in the background. Growing concerns around the ongoing lack of meaningful government support for the sector now dominate discourse. But PSVAR should not be forgotten. It is not going to go away.

News that the rail industry earlier this year proposed a blanket requirement for PSVAR on every coach – including those used only on private hire and tour work – slipped out via the back door last week.

Nevertheless, it was a remarkable suggestion from a sector struggling with the implementation of PSVAR on replacement road services. The immediate question is: What qualifies the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) to propose changes to legislation that would have a huge impact on many unrelated businesses? Desperation. That is what its proposals reek of.

Minister of State for Transport Chris Heaton-Harris kicked the can further down the road by rejecting RDG’s ideas. But a workable solution remains farther away than ever. The likelihood of investment in hundreds more PSVAR compliant coaches between now and the end of 2020 is non-existent.

Hopes of universal compliance with PSVAR on home-to-school services once exemptions in that area expire are similarly remote. While the bus sector largely satisfies the Regulations, it is inconceivable that all non-compliant coaches can be replaced or upgraded in the timeframes available for either home-to-school or rail replacement applications.

While the industry must always provide an accessible vehicle where it is required, why compliance across the board in home-to-school and rail replacement was ever thought to be necessary must be questioned. It has been noted that many stops on home-to-school services do not allow the deployment of a lift because of restrictions relating to either space or safety. The rail industry accepts that some stations are similarly limited.

But recognising that now does nothing for those operators that have already invested to comply. It also does little for those customers who rely on transport being accessible.

routeone was recently privy to a risk assessment of lift operation on home-to-school and rail replacement services. At many locations, it is physically impossible. At others there are major safety implications for the lift user and the operator. For still more, the risk falls on passers-by on narrow pavements.

This is further proof, if it was required, that the government abjectly failed to properly examine and encourage the application of PSVAR until compliance was around the corner. It coasted through the process, not worried about whether it could see the future properly and without taking a test drive of the situation to see how it was right to proceed.

Practical impossibilities on the ground also expose the Rail Delivery Group’s suggestion of mandatory PSVAR compliance across the coach industry as the ill thought out, knee-jerk reaction that it is.

It is now too late to unpick the complexity of PSVAR. Doing so would not be fair on operators that have complied in any case. Nor would it be fair on those who rely on accessible vehicles. Expect further short- and medium-term exemptions – and little real progress – over the coming months.