There remains no indication of when the Department for Transport (DfT) will provide clarity on the medium-term exemptions to PSVAR that will be introduced after the expiry of those that are currently in force for in-scope home-to-school and rail replacement services.
DfT says that discussions with operators and “other key stakeholders” are informing that work. Its officials are thus continuing to develop a medium-term position. Details of the resulting exemptions will be released “in due course,” a spokesperson adds.
Additionally, a statement issued on 23 November has underlined how it will be necessary for operators that wish to take advantage of the pending medium-term PSVAR exemptions to “demonstrate the steps that they have taken proactively to provide compliant services.”
Continuing uncertainty around the next step for PSVAR is disappointing. An ongoing failure by DfT to clarify the medium-term position over four and a half months after it was first raised has already been flagged by trade bodies representing the coach industry as an increasingly serious issue for many providers of in-scope home-to-school services.
In that segment, all current exemptions will expire on 31 March 2022. Under-Secretary of State for Transport Baroness Vere told trade body heads in July that plans for the medium term beyond that date had begun development. She added that DfT officials were exploring providing waivers only to Schedule 1 of the Regulations, which governs requirements for wheelchair users.
Lady Vere noted that requirements under Schedule 3 – including those relating to gangways, handrails and steps – would need to be satisfied if medium-term exemptions were to be secured, unless some of them “cannot be reasonably complied with in the time available.” Any eligibility rules will be consulted on before they are introduced.
She also advised that operators should begin planning immediately “if they anticipate requiring exemptions from 2022 onwards,” despite scant clarity on next year’s position. Medium-term special authorisations on the same basis for rail replacement services are expected to be authorised for beyond the 30 June 2022 expiry of current exemptions for that work.
One trade body has already advised its affected members to begin making alterations to handrails and step edges that may be necessary to comply with PSVAR, although it notes that many coaches – regardless of their PSVAR status – are compliant with those aspects of the Regulations ex-factory.
However, the same body has questioned whether sufficient destination display screens can be sourced by 1 April 2022 should they form part of DfT’s stipulations. It believes that those units may need to be discounted from any Schedule 3 requirements introduced from then.
Alternatively, the organisation suggests that DfT may need to postpone the April 1 2022 date by which in-scope home-to-school services need to comply with certain elements of PSVAR and bring it into line with the expiry of current rail replacement special authorisations three months later.