Scope for a further nine-month exemption from PSVAR for non-compliant vehicles used on rail replacement services has been made available by the Department for Transport (DfT). The latest exemption mechanism will commence on 1 October and run to 30 June 2022. It was disclosed in a letter from Minister of State for Transport Chris Heaton-Harris to Rail Delivery Group (RDG) Director General Andy Bagnall on 21 September.
As before, to be eligible for the exemption a special authorisation must be sourced from DfT via the rail replacement service provider. It continues to be the case that compliant vehicles must be used in the first instance. Non-compliant examples with a special authorisation may only be utilised when all compliant options have been exhausted.
In his letter, Mr Heaton-Harris says that during the period from May to June, 94% of vehicles used on both planned and emergency rail replacement services complied with PSVAR. He notes that while such a high level of compliance was evident “partly due to the impact of the pandemic,” it is important that it is maintained in the future.
In the longer term, Mr Heaton-Harris says that the letter sent to coach industry trade bodies by Under-Secretary of State for Transport Baroness Vere on 6 July supports work towards achieving universal compliance with PSVAR on rail replacement. When combined with DfT’s pending review of the Regulations – slated for completion in late 2023 – it “offers the possibility of a solution to this issue.”
In her letter, Lady Vere outlined plans for medium-term exemptions to PSVAR from 2022 for what she described as “essential services.” However, those exemptions will only be available to operators that “can demonstrate the steps that they have taken proactively to provide compliant services.”
No further clarity on the terms of, or requirements for, those medium-term exemptions has been revealed. That recently led trade body RHA to urge DfT to accelerate its work if impacted operators are to carry out any necessary modification work to comply by the time that current exemptions to PSVAR on home-to-school services expire on 31 March 2022.
In his letter to RDG, Mr Heaton-Harris says the 30 June 2022 end date for special authorisations for rail replacement work will ensure that the mechanism is in place for the Easter, May Day and Platinum Jubilee Bank Holiday weekends next year.