PSVAR conversion: A demand-driven task

Converting existing non-compliant coaches to allow them to satisfy PSVAR is a growing industry. Cogent Seating, in partnership with lift maker PLS, is seeing demand boom

The government insists that coaches will need to comply with PSVAR where mandated when it refuses to issue any further exemptions. Because of that, attention is rapidly turning to converting existing vehicles to satisfy the regulations.

Cogent Seating, working with lift manufacturer PLS, can already undertake that work at its premises near Swansea. It handles the whole process: Every aspect of conversion and certification, with the coach returning to its owner complete with the all-important PSVAR certificate.

The impetus to establish a PSVAR conversion programme came from market demand. That’s not just from operators. It is also of great interest to dealers. A used coach that has been upgraded to satisfy both PSVAR and Euro VI is a saleable asset.

But it’s not just with existing coaches where Cogent and PLS have found a niche. They recently worked through a batch of six new Temsa HD12s for UK and Ireland supplier Arriva Bus and Coach (ABC) that were delivered without PSVAR compliance.

PLS provided lifts for the conversion programme; various locations on the vehicle are possible
PLS provided lifts for the conversion programme; various locations on the vehicle are possible

ABC had the coaches in stock and it saw an opportunity that would permit them to be used on service work by one of Arriva’s UK Bus subsidiaries.

ABC, Cogent and PLS have since collaborated closely on the project and all the HD12s are now in use. At the time that routeone visited, a Van Hool EX also supplied by ABC was on site at Swansea awaiting the start of PSVAR work.

“Wherever possible, we wanted to retain the ex-factory aesthetics inside and out during conversion of the HD12s,” says ABC Head of Business Development and Key Accounts Dave Gregory. “The HD12 is a coach. It’s not utilitarian. That is something that Cogent considered.”

The opportunity exists for many other coach models to be converted. Cogent and PLS can install a lift either in the underfloor luggage compartment or in a ski locker (when fitted) to suit the vehicle layout. They can also add a lift at the front door on certain body types.

As its offering evolves, part of the package that Cogent proposes will be to offer a collection and drop-off service. There are also plans in the pipeline to provide an existing PSVAR compliant coach while work on the customer’s own vehicle is undertaken.

‘Not just adding a lift’

The two parties are aware that some operators have questions around conversion of non-compliant coaches to achieve PSVAR certification. Cogent Managing Director Rhys Kotschy says that the process is not merely about adding a lift. Much else is necessary to achieve compliance.

Converted coaches are certified by DVSA via the Individual Vehicle Approval process. That involves a DVSA inspector seeing each one, and each vehicle type being tilt tested.

The primary consideration when scoping out a new installation is where the lift goes. It’s likely that most coaches will have it located in the underfloor locker. Higher bodies will see a ski locker as equally suitable.

Plumbing for the perimeter heater radiators is rerouted where the additional door is added
Plumbing for the perimeter heater radiators is rerouted where the additional door is added

The Temsa HD12s converted for ABC utilise the former placement. When stowed, the PLS lift is the full width of the coach. In the HD12 it is hard against the front bulkhead of the underfloor bay. A shelf above it allows luggage to go on top.

Most important when positioning the lift is the location of window pillars and framework within the luggage bay. The lift cannot be placed in a spot that would lead to the removal of OEM pillars to accommodate the side door. Accomplishing that is easier on some coaches than others, says Rhys.

Questions have been raised about the addition of an opening to the side of the coach and compliance with R66 rollover legislation. Rhys is aware of those. However, he says that the door leads to the installation of a further pillar. DVSA has approved Cogent’s methodology.

Once Cogent has decided where the lift will go, it cuts a suitably sized ‘letterbox’ in the respective locker door. A flap that, like the additional door in the saloon, is custom-made to suit is added to allow rapid lift readiness. Replacement glass for the affected bodyside area is also fitted.

On the inside

Considerable work is necessary on the inside of the coach during conversion to ensure that it complies fully with PSVAR.

As much tracking as the customer requires is added. It is bolted into place from underneath. Plumbing for the heater radiator is rerouted beneath the floor at the door opening and Hanover front, side and rear displays are added.

All electrical work is undertaken by a specialist. Much of it relates to safety. A warning buzzer sounds if the additional door is open, and an inhibitor is installed to prevent the coach from moving if the lift is not stowed. The lift is also precluded from being extended if the ‘letterbox’ is closed.

PLS provides a lift control unit that is detachable. It allows the driver to ride on the lift platform if he or she wishes to with no concern of snagging the cable. They can also walk around as they need to without a cable causing a trip hazard.

Cogent fits only new PLS lifts as part of the PSVAR project. Using examples that have been removed from other coaches is not an option. That is to ensure that the quality of the work is equal to that on a factory-fitted, ‘from new’ installation.

Mythbusting

A lack of clarity around PSVAR still exists. Suggestions have been aired that the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic will see already-agreed exemptions for home-to-school and rail replacement services extended. That remains to be seen, but PSVAR will not go away in the long term.

“That’s one of the myths that we are trying to bust,” says Rhys. “There are not going to be endless exemptions. Operators are starting to appreciate that, and we are seeing a lot of interest in having coaches converted to comply.”

PLS has upped its capacity by 35% to take account of the jump in requirements for coach lifts
PLS has upped its capacity by 35% to take account of the jump in requirements for coach lifts

Another area of concern that Rhys and PLS Managing Director Adam Beck want to calm surrounds the cost of conversion. Those done by Cogent start at around the £20,000 mark, including the provision of a PSVAR certificate once the work is complete.

Cogent can put customers in touch with companies that can finance the cost of conversion when needed.

“Another myth refers to capacity. When a wheelchair user is carried, they are so at the expense of four seats. That is unavoidable. But when no such passenger is aboard the coach retains the same number of places that it had before conversion,” Rhys adds.

“Ordinarily, the relevant number of seats are removed entirely when a wheelchair user is aboard. But if the customer prefers ‘shuffle’ seating with fold-up bases, we can fit it. In that case, there is an impact on capacity because of the space that those seats occupy when stowed on the vehicle.”

One thing that Cogent is currently examining is ‘roll along’ seats. They have a small wheel mounted to each leg, allowing the driver to remove them via the lift and roll them away. The assistance of a second person to lift seats in and out is thus not required.

A welcome addition

Besides the Temsa HD12s and the Van Hool EX that was awaiting admission to Cogent’s premises when routeone visited, other models were also present. They included a Neoplan Tourliner and Jonckheere JHV- and Plaxton Panther-bodied Volvos.

Cogent and PLS believe that most coach models can be converted to achieve PSVAR compliance. Although front-engined examples are yet to figure in the workstream, Rhys does not rule out processing them in the future.

“We would certainly look at Mercedes-Benz Atego-based midicoaches, as an example. In that case the lift would probably be mounted behind the rear axle. There is a lot else to consider, but I believe it would be possible.”

Cogent and PLS believe that most coaches are suitable for conversion to PSVAR complianc
Cogent and PLS believe that most coaches are suitable for conversion to PSVAR complianc

As an indication of the level of interest in PSVAR conversion, Cogent has a Plaxton-bodied Volvo dating from 2001 booked in. Its owner has operated the coach for a long time and does not wish to replace it.

“That may be an extreme example, but it shows the extent of what we can do,” says Rhys. “When it is completed, it will be returned with a PSVAR certificate, just as all our other conversions are.”

Those operators who want to take advantage of Cogent’s PSVAR conversion service should move quickly. It can process three coaches per week, and there is already a waiting list. While there has been unprecedented demand for lifts, PLS has increased production capacity by 35%. “We have been planning for this for 15 years,” says Adam. “We are prepared.”

Conversions will continue at Swansea in the long term. The option also exists for some coaches to be upseated to 70 while PSVAR work is done.

That will deliver continuity of business for Cogent and PLS. And with the number of coaches that will need to satisfy PSVAR once exemptions expire, conversion will form a significant part of complying.